'Someone who did his best': Tearful Ross says goodbye

He was the man who made Wayne Bennett eat his words.

The journeyman who found a home at Newcastle.

A poster child for patience, persistence and perseverance, who played with pleasure, passion and personality.

Nathan Ross played every game like he loved it.

Like it was his last. Sadly, after a 60-game NRL career – 60 more than his former coach expected – he has played his last.

The man better known as “Ross Dog” or “White Lightning” – nicknames he gave himself, hardly surprisingly – has been medically retired because of chronic groin and pelvis injuries.

Surrounded by his fiancée, Nikea Jones, and their children, Ziah and Willow, Ross fought back tears as he reflected on the premature end to his career at a media conference in Newcastle on Wednesday.

"It’s extremely difficult because the choice has been made for me," the 30-year-old winger said.

"I had to play injured a lot last year, which in turn led to some irreparable damage that I’ve got to look at getting fixed to have a good standard of living after this."

The Sydney-born son of former Rabbitohs winger Mark Ross overcame setbacks and knockbacks throughout his travels, which began at the Coogee Wombats and included stops at Lakes United, Kurri Kurri, the Gold Coast and even France before he finally settled at the Knights.

"I did have a bit of self-discovery through my early 20s and my teens, having a bit more energy than most, but rugby league was always a place where I was just able to be myself," he said.

Ross scored a try in his NRL debut in August 2015 – a 26-24 loss to the Dragons at Kogarah in Danny Buderus’s first game as Newcastle’s interim coach.

A proud City Origin representative in 2017, Ross became known for his try-scoring acrobatics and athleticism, but was equally enthusiastic when carting the ball out of dummy-half on kick returns.

"That’s when you know you’re alive – scoring points and doing the dirty work," he said.

"At the Newcastle Knights we’ve always spoken about not owning the jersey or the number on that jersey. You’re a caretaker of that jersey and you want to leave that jersey in a better position than how you got it.

"Unfortunately for me … I’ve got James McManus, Aku Uate and Kurt Gidley who wore the jersey before me, so I can’t honestly say that I left the jersey in a better position, but I just hope that my career is remembered as someone who did his best for the Knights.

"Every time I went out there, I wasn’t going out there to play for myself, I was going out there to play for everyone who supported me to get to where I was."

One of the game’s more colourful characters, he's preparing for a post-playing career in the media or the mines and he hopes he has inspired other players to back themselves and bare their souls as he has done.

Newcastle Knights winger Nathan Ross.
Newcastle Knights winger Nathan Ross. ©Shane Myers/NRL Photos

"We’re in an arena where people want to see acrobatics, they want to see the hard work, they want to see blood, they want to see sweat, they want to see tears," Ross said.

"They want to see organic feelings and see who we are, so that needs to be welcomed with opened arms – people being able to be themselves."

Famously, Bennett told Ross in 2013 he would never play in the NRL.

The following year, late in the evening at the club’s presentation dinner after Bennett had said his own goodbyes to sponsors and supporters, Ross cosied up to the master coach and thanked him.

"I don’t even think I’m too much of a side note for Wayne … and looking back on it, he might have been right at that point in time," he said.

I just hope that my career is remembered as someone who did his best for the Knights.

Nathan Ross

"Sometimes in life, you might not be ready for certain situations, and I took that as motivation and went back and worked on everything – every part of my game – and a year-and-a-bit later I debuted, so it’s a thank you more than anything."

Knights coach Nathan Brown believed Ross provided hope for the blue-and-red faithful during the club’s ignominious streak of three straight wooden spoons between 2015 and 2017.

"A lot of people have come and gone during that period and Rossy was our leading try-scorer during that period, so he certainly did give people some hope there on the hill," Brown said.

"I don’t think anyone can under-estimate how tough those times were for everyone involved in the club, and there’s been a fair number of players that might not take part in the next part of the club’s journey but that doesn’t mean they didn’t play a big part in where the club’s got to.

"I don’t think there’s any doubt you would call Rossy a cult figure, a character, a crowd-pleaser, or all of them. He’s certainly brought a smile to many people’s faces, myself included.

"I think for all young blokes, he’s an example of if you do have a dream and you stick to it long enough, you never know what might come of it."