Anticlimactic end to noble Warrior's career
Highlight ... Luck pays tribute to the fans after last year's grand final loss. Photo: Jason Oxenham
Like a ghost that still walks, the image of Micheal Luck will linger long around Mt Smart Stadium after he finishes his first-grade career this afternoon.
That black and white strapping around his head. That upright, old-fashioned way of carrying the ball up. The orders barked so loudly to his 12 teammates that the first few rows in the crowd can hear as well.
More than a footballer though, more than the man who will wear the No.13 on his back against Canberra today; Luck is one of those great figures in sport.
A selfless individual, admired by teammates, coaches, front office staff, fans, and media alike. Someone who has given back to the game twice as much as he will take away - a list of injuries a mile long, sprains, aches and niggles that he will likely carry with him for the rest of his life.
Luck has little to gain when he makes his last stand at Mt Smart this afternoon. Guts it out for 80minutes and do your club proud but ultimately know the season, and your final game - the 150th for the club, has been in vain.
For the Warriors, this season will always represent failure; a coach losing his job, a grand final team the year before floundering and a host of players bloodied in an astonishing injury toll.
It's not the send-off Luck deserves but it's the one he's going to get. For a bloke like the rugged 30-year-old Queenslander, well that's just how it goes.
''That's footy, isn't it?'' Luck said. ''You have the high highs, and low lows. When you're in a club like this, when you are one team in one country, there's a lot of expectation, attention and pressure. Everything is magnified.
''Obviously, if you're writing the chapter on how you want it to finish, this is not how you'd pen it - but that's how it is.''
Praise for the Gatton-born battler has been rife this week. And why not? In what will be an 11-year, 226-game NRL career, he's battled through 13,622 on-field minutes - that's nearly 9½days on the footy field, made an incredible 7082tackles, made 12,553metres in 1783 runs. A renowned tackle machine, Luck once held the NRL record of 74 tackles a game, against Melbourne in 2009.
''I've been at a lot of clubs as a player, and I've never seen a player have so much influence and effect on an entire club, not just the football staff, but the office as well,'' Warriors caretaker boss Tony Iro said.
''Everything good we've done, he's had his fingerprints all over. He brings everything that a club will want in a player, both on and off the field. I can't speak highly enough of him, and devastating that he's leaving us.''
''The true measure of the guy is any other bloke, with what he's carrying now injury-wise, would not be playing but he's still fronting up and doing his best for the club.''
It's easy to get sentimental about Luck but it shouldn't be forgotten that little was really known, or expected of the North Queenslander when he arrived here in 2005.
Then 24, Luck had 76 first-grade games to his name for the Cowboys, but was largely an off-the-bench player; a bloke who was certainly NRL standard, but needing a real home.
It would be Mt Smart Stadium. After being picked up at the airport by former hooker Nathan Fien, Luck got into his work at MtSmart, playing every single game for the Warriors the following year, and winning Clubman of the Year at the end-of-year awards.
Last year's grand final is an obvious bright spot but for Luck, the times he has been most proud of are those when the team, collectively, has battled through adversity.
''We've gone through slumps over the years when we've lost four in a row and you learn how to be tough in those years,'' said Luck, who counts skipper Simon Mannering, Stacey Jones and Cowboys hard man Paul Bowman as his favourite players to play alongside.
''You're probably friendless and you've got to go out and earn that respect back. It's a bit masochist but I enjoy that.
''I enjoy getting through those hard times and the sense of pride I feel coming through the other side of that still in one piece - that's what's made it worthwhile.''