Damian Willis is hoping to have plenty of reasons to celebrate come Sunday.
Not only its his 35th birthday and Father’s Day all in one, but the Gundagai centre is looking to toast a premiership in his last game of football as well.
Eighteen seasons after his first grade debut, Willis will hang up the boots after the grand final against Southcity at Equex Centre on Saturday.
He can’t think of a better way to go out than with a grand final win.
“It’s every first grader’s dream really to end their footy career with a grand final win,” Willis said.
“It’s the fairytale I guess you could call it.”
After debuting for Junee as a 16-year-old, Willis chased his NRL dream before returning home to the Diesels in 2007.
He spent four of the next five seasons there, including 2012 as captain-coach, before making the move to Gundagai in 2013.
He was part of a grand final loss that season, plus in 2016 and 2017, but the 2015 grand final win remains a career highlight.
“There were so many great players in that side, we created a lot of good memories with each other and I think that is why I stuck around so long at Gundagai,” Willis said.
“We’re all really good mates and have achieved a lot together as a team and a bunch of mates.
“We’ve been there for each other and it is probably one of things that stands out for me.”
Best known for his impressive tryscoring feats, Willis hasn’t had a big year by his own lofty standards.
He was the competition’s leading tryscorer in 2016, with 24 tries, and finished third with 18 last season, but only scored six leading into the finals.
However after letting the Tigers know he was hanging up the boots, Willis has scored doubles in their two finals appearances.
After spending months deciding his future, the 34-year-old feels as though a weight has been lifted from his shoulders and is looking to extend that form against the Bulls on Saturday.
But form isn’t why he’s calling it quits.
Feeling he’s got nothing left to prove in Group Nine, he doesn’t want to go on for that one season too many.
“I know I haven’t been at my best, and I’ve felt I haven’t been at my best, but it really wasn’t why I made the decision,” Willis said.
“I think it is time to pass the mantle onto someone else and give them a go in first grade.
“I didn’t really want to take a young bloke’s position at Gundagai when I’ve had my time.”
Willis rates Weissel Medal winners Sam Quinn and Brett Eccleston, plus Tigers stalwart Kieran Pearce, as the best he’s played with in Group Nine with Peter Little his greatest adversary.
Gundagai haven’t beaten Southcity this season but that doesn’t stop him being confident heading into the decider.
“Anything can happen in grand finals,” he said.
“It is the last game of the season, bodies go on the line, people get hurt and momentum shifts in games so I’m very confident we’ve got the side that can match it with them.”