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Evolution of the winger: Burt to bid farewell to land of the giants

HAD Luke Burt been trying to start his NRL career today, rather than preparing to end it, the winger does not even believe he would have played a game.

''To be brutally honest with you, they probably wouldn't look at me, at my size,'' Burt said. ''That's my honest opinion. I'm not sure what other people would say. I'd just find it a lot harder to crack it, because the builds of NRL players are a lot bigger than mine.

''Body shapes have changed … and mine's stayed for 14 years.''

In his early years in the NRL, with the wispy frame, big, fast and bruising wingers were still a frightening minority, kept to the likes of Lesley Vainikolo and Wendell Sailor. Not now. ''They're all that sort of size now,'' Burt said.

It is one of the reasons he knows he has made the right call; to end his career on Sunday night, against St George Illawarra at ANZ Stadium.

''My position is getting a lot bigger,'' Burt said. ''There's still a few boys playing now that will keep going, but all the young kids coming through now, they're just that athletic, big and strong. I think it's changing into a bigger player's role, the winger.


Burt made his debut against the Dragons, as a 17-year-old in the double header at the then named Stadium Australia in round one of 1999. He says now: ''I could have finished after one game, and I would have been happy.'' That he will play his 264th match on Sunday emphasises his ability to withstand a revolution around him in his position. He will leave with two grand finals, a Country jersey and a spot in 2011 in the Prime Minister's XIII.

''[The NRL] was a place where I probably didn't think I belonged at first, to be honest with you,'' Burt said. ''I wasn't one of those kids that was confident I was going to make NRL. At a young age, it wasn't a huge goal … But I got a taste for it that year, and from there on in I didn't really want to be anywhere else.''

Except now, that is. He says the time is right for his departure.

''When I thought about it, I thought it'd be tough to do another pre-season,'' Burt said. ''And when you're mentally thinking like that, I think it's the right time to give it away.

''I might have been able to scrape another 12 months out, but whether I really wanted to do it inside me, I wasn't sure. When you question yourself, I don't think you should go on.''

Burt is honoured to share the stage with Nathan Hindmarsh.

''He's done more in football than most blokes could imagine,'' Burt said. ''He's not just a Parramatta legend; he's a NSW and Australian legend. He's done it at every level.

''For 15 years, to do what he does as a back-rower … I don't think you'll see another back-rower do what he's done. They may do the same workload in games, but they won't do it for 330 games. I can't see anyone else doing that.

''I'll be proud as punch to be standing there next to him for his last game.''

Burt will be working with the next generation of Eels, as the club's welfare and education officer but, more importantly for him, the next generation in his own household.

Instead of missing his daughter's netball or his son's burgeoning league career, because of training, he will be watching from the sideline on a Saturday instead of preparing to dance a jig on the other side of it to get around the latest young monolith.

''I'm just looking forward to spending the whole day with them, and when the young fella has a play, we can stay there and watch the older teams go around,'' Burt said. ''They're all things I did as a kid that he'll want to do as well. And I can hang out with him.''

Hanging out with the little kids. Figures.