Conlon's career day on eve of retirement
AN EMOTIONAL Wes Conlon sat in the stands at North Ipswich Reserve following Saturday's 52-16 win over Tweed Heads allowing all the memories good and bad to come flooding back.
The 28-year-old had just helped keep the Ipswich Jets' slim finals hopes alive with a career-best, four-try performance.
That it came just days after the 78-game veteran told his teammates of his impending retirement may have some scratching their heads wondering why now.
But in that moment, Conlon was at peace with his decision.
"I had a talk with my wife, and it just came over me. I made the decision (to retire) probably halfway through the season, and I really felt a lot of weight came off my shoulders," Conlon said.
"I had a teary at home. She said, 'Yep, I know it's time'.
Conlon always had this performance in his locker.
But with the likes of Michael Purcell, Marmin Barba and Jayden Connors carrying the pacey playmaking load this season, Conlon's magic was not required as often.
Arguably his haul was again not needed on Saturday, in a match the Jets dominated from start to finish.
But Conlon is Ipswich's Batman. And this day was one his city wanted, even if it was not needed.
"I've never done that in my career - at least I can't recall," he said of the four-try haul.
"Things just happened. I was in the right place."
The fun all started just prior to halftime, when Conlon outpaced the covering defender to pounce on a perfectly-placed Chris Ash grubber.
That one got the crowd murmuring.
Immediately after the second-half restart came try number two - and it was quintessential Conlon.
After the Jets shifted the ball left to right, Conlon received and danced back in-field.
Faking to step outside, Conlon instead kicked between the defence, dropped his shoulder and before you could blink had the Steeden spiralling skyward in celebration.
That one got the crowd cheering.
His hat-trick came just five minutes later. This time it was Connors making the play, scooting from dummy half before finding Conlon on the edge with a pinpoint cut-out pass.
That one had Jets fans out of their seats.
Then with the hosts in cruise control and Tweed seemingly counting down the minutes, Conlon decided he was not yet finished.
A show-and-go out wide was all it took, to find a hole and race away.
That one had movie directors scrambling for intellectual property rights.
Fit for a movie script, Conlon's day out was a fitting way to cap what was his final match at North Ipswich Reserve.
"I'll miss this ground. I'll miss the crowd too," he said.
"Every time we come off with a win - or loss - they're still here. The faithfuls."
The faithfuls stayed even longer on Saturday.
It took nearly an hour after the match before he had time to sit down and speak.
Everyone wanted to shake the hand of a departing favourite son.
"This means everything. It's my backyard, I grew up in Ipswich. It's really a privilege to represent as I did, and give my all each week," he said.
"Rugby league is such an awesome sport, for all the things it's done for me. I'm proud of my career, and the people around me.
"This club has a warming spirit. When we go to war, we go altogether.
"There's never once been a hiccup in the team since I started.
"From the gatekeepers, to the people in the tuckshop, to the ball boys . . . we're one big family here."
But Conlon will miss his teammates the most.
The mateship. The training three nights a week. The pre-game rituals and the post-match celebrations.
"It's a brotherhood," he said.
"I'm going to miss that team bonding; the memories we make. But I've got plenty in the bank."
For all the handshakes and back slaps on Saturday, Conlon knows his job is not yet done.
It is back to training tomorrow, ahead of at least one more Sunday afternoon in the sheds with his teammates. Hopefully more.
But if this weekend's clash with the Devils is his last in green and white, Conlon is confident the club is in good hands.
"We've got the likes of Purcy, Jayden, Julian Christian, Sam Caslick . . . those young lads coming through have some talent in them," he said.
"They can do anything. Win games from anywhere. The amount of talent in our backyard is unbelievable. I hope they carry the legacy like I did for those who came before me.
"Ben and Shane really bring the best out in us. They're more than coaches, they're like older brothers. The respect that's there means we don't want to let them down."
After the recording was switched off and Conlon cast his eyes back over the playing field, he turned and smiled: "Four tries and players' player in your last (home) game . . . that doesn't happen."
Sometimes the Footy Gods have a true sense of occasion.
On Saturday, they shined on a true Jets legend.
WES CONLON's most treasured Jets memory was not a winning one.
But it epitomised why the 78-game veteran loves his team.
"One of the highlights is a game we lost, here (North Ipswich) versus Souths Logan," he said.
"We were losing something like 40-10 at halftime. We came back to 40-all, but lost on the hooter.
"That there is the highlight. It shows no matter what the score is, as long as we play our footy we can beat any team."
Intrust Super Cup Round 23: IPSWICH JETS 52 (Wes Conlon 4, Michael Purcell 3, Marmin Barba, Nat Neale, Mitch Carpenter tries; Wes Conlon 4, Jayden Connors 2 goals) def TWEED HEADS SEAGULLS 16 (Jack Cook, Lamar Manuel-Liolevave tries; Rex Johnson 2 goals) at North Ipswich Reserve