To appreciate the influence of Matt Gillett, and the legacy he leaves behind following his decision to retire from rugby league, you need to digest the words of his former Queensland Origin teammate Josh Papalii.
Papalii is not a man to waste words. The Maroons hulk would much rather punch his way through the teeth of the NSW defence than spend too much time talking about it.
But mention the name Matt Gillett, and Papalii is quick with verbal bouquets.
When Gillett was recalled to the Queensland team this year after missing the 2018 series with a fractured neck, Papalii was genuinely thrilled for the Broncos back-rower.
It was fitting that Gillett should receive the FOGS Tosser Turner Medal for chalking up his 20th Origin appearance in Game Two in Perth, because it would prove to be his last game in his beloved Queensland jumper.
“I told ‘Gillo’ before Game One how good it was to see him back in camp after what he had gone through,” Papalii said.
“He never made a big deal of his neck injury. He just came back like it was normal.
“To get the Tosser Turner Medal is a great achievement. At Origin level, you want to play beside blokes you can trust … and we all trust Gillo will get the job done.”
For the past decade, Gillett got the job done for the Broncos, Queensland and Australia with a minimum of fuss but his contribution was never undersold by teammates or astute rugby league fans.
Quietly-spoken by nature, the simplicity of Gillett’s game can be traced to his Bribie Island roots. But when he got a whiff of the big-time after arriving at the Broncos for pre-season training in 2010, his competitive fire was stoked.
Fast forward a decade, and the 31-year-old exits the game with 20 Origin matches, 12 Tests for Australia and 200 games for the Broncos, fittingly joining the elite double centurion club in what proved to be his final game in Brisbane’s heavy finals loss to Parramatta.
Truth be told, it wasn’t meant to end like this for Gillett.
The tough-tackling back-rower had another three years left on his Broncos contract, but his body began breaking down.
There was the neck injury last year and also reconstructive surgery on his shoulder in the same season.
Gillett’s shoulder was holding up well this year, but when he suffered another jolt against Souths on the eve of this year’s finals, the Maroons ace knew something was wrong.
After undergoing scans, doctors told Gillett his shoulder could not continue to withstand the punishment of NRL football. It was a crushing blow. His stellar career was over in a flash.
“The scans showed there was a large amount of damage in my right shoulder. The shoulder is beyond repair,” he said at his retirement press conference.
“This has been a huge shock to me and my family. We have taken time over recent weeks to consider what we should do. I have decided to take the medical advice from the experts and call time on my career.
“It’s the last thing I wanted to do, give the game away because of injury, but I have to do what’s best for myself, health and family.”
It is a measure of Gillett’s consistency and professionalism that he played 18 consecutive Origin campaigns following his debut in 2012.
He finished with seven Origin campaigns, winning five, becoming a mainstay of Queensland’s pack with his hard-running and brilliant defensive reads on the Maroons’ right edge.
Queensland coach Kevin Walters said Gillett’s retirement will leave a huge void in the Maroons’ ranks.
“Matt has been an exceptional player and is more importantly, a great Queenslander who never let his state down,” Walters said.
“Matt is your typical rugby league player. He’s one of those guys with a team-first mentality. Players enjoyed playing with him – they wanted him in the side.”
Gillett will remain at the Broncos in an off-field capacity and could even be called upon during next year’s Origin series as a mentor for Queensland’s forwards.
“I’m going to be a part of the Broncos club. My next journey is just starting,” he said.