IT was not the way George Ndaira wanted to go out.
Captain-coaching Kurri in 2013, the former St George Illawarra, South Sydney and Knights utility injured his shoulder in the countdown to the finals and watched from the sidelines as the Bulldogs lost the premiership decider to Western Suburbs.
When he accepted an assistant coaching role with Newcastle's NSW Cup team last season, he assumed his playing days were over.
But now, at the age of 30, he is enjoying an unexpected comeback that he hopes will culminate in a grand final lap of honour on Sunday week.
When Newcastle's NSW Cup squad suffered a series of setbacks mid-season that left them short of dummy-half options, Ndaira approached head coach Matt Lantry and volunteered his services.
"We were struggling for hookers and I told Matty I'd play if he needed me to," Ndaira said.
"So I signed a contract before June 30 just in case.
"A week later, he asked me to play, so that's the way it all worked out.
"I wasn't planning on playing but I was still training and keeping in some sort of shape, so it wasn't too bad."
For the second half of the season, the Lebanon international has been a regular in Newcastle's squad, either as hooker or off the bench.
Last week he deputised in the halves when Jaelen Feeney was ruled out with a virus and starred in Newcastle's 44-12 win against Penrith, which lifted them into Sunday's grand final qualifier against minor premiers Mounties at Leichhardt Oval.
Ndaira, who appeared in 25 NRL games between 2006 and 2010, has no plans to continue playing next season, so this shapes as an unexpected chance to hang up the boots in style.
"I won a Jersey Flegg grand final in '05 at the Dragons, and that was probably my last one," he said.
"I've lost a couple, so it would be nice to get another opportunity."
After sudden-death wins against Manly (45-6) and the Panthers, the Knights head into Sunday's clash with plenty of momentum.
"Everyone's just got that confidence," Ndaira said.
"We've been working hard all year but we've just clicked in the finals.
"It's made a big difference getting the guys back from first grade.
"Their experience helped us through the tough periods of the game, and Jake Mamo was just a ball of energy.
"He really wanted to play well for us and it was great to have him back in the team."
Newcastle's NSW Cup showdown will be broadcast live on Foxtel on Sunday. Kick-off is at 3.10pm.
■ His season started and finished in disappointment, after receiving long-term suspensions for shoulder charges.
But Knights forward Tariq Sims has been a role model behind the scenes, earning a nomination for the Ken Stephen Medal, presented each year to the NRL player who has made an outstanding contribution in the community.
Sims is a regular visitor at John Hunter Children's Hospital, he is an NRL mental-health ambassador and visited Dungog earlier this year after the killer storms that devastated the town.
He is one of 14 nominees across the NRL. The award was won last year by Newcastle's new recruit Trent Hodkinson.
■ It has been a bleak year for the Knights on the field, but they have at least collected some silverware for events off the pitch.
Newcastle were presented on Tuesday with the Rugby League Player Association award for NRL Education Club of the Year.
Under-20 forward Bradie Smith, a qualified carpenter who has begun studying a Clerk of Works course, was named as the RLPA's National Youth Competition Trade Player of the Year.
Knights legend and former NSW skipper Danny Buderus was inducted into the RLPA's "Origin Gold" club, along with Billy Moore, Corey Parker, Wayne Pearce and Steve Roach.
■ Knights hooker Tom Starling was named SG Ball Player of the Year at this week's Brad Fittler Medal presentation night.
It capped a prestigious double for Starling, who also collected the Carlson Club-Andrew Johns Medal at the Knights' junior presentation night in July.