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A 16-year-old Alex Glenn was sobbing on the way home from the physiotherapist after being told his back was in such a fragile state that one bad tackle could leave him in a wheelchair.
He stopped playing rugby league for three years as a result, abandoning childhood dreams of becoming a professional athlete until Wayne Bennett surprised the then-house painter with a phone call.
Glenn hung up on what he thought was a prank call from a Burleigh Bears teammate, but Bennett called back.
Thirteen NRL seasons and 282 games later, Glenn will retire as Brisbane captain with only club greats Sam Thaiday, Corey Parker and Darren Lockyer ahead of him in games played.
After pondering it all season, the 33-year-old made retirement official on Thursday, addressing a room packed with players, staff, media, his partner and three children.
“I was balling my eyes out, football was everything I knew,” he said of the call to stop playing as a promising teenage talent.
“To step back from something you love was a hard decision, but what’s more important, of course your health.
“And I don’t think I ever would have played these games if I didn’t take that break … it was a blessing in disguise.”
A premiership alluded him – Glenn played in the 2015 decider which they lost in extra time to North Queensland – but he said there was plenty to celebrate after coming “from nothing” as a boy in Auckland.
“It’s been 14 years I’ve been putting my body on the line for this club,” he said.
“I didn’t win a premiership but I think my journey … speaks more value than a ring that’ll go on my finger, apart from my marriage one.”
Glenn debuted as a 20-year-old and has won the Broncos’ Kevin Walters Award for most consistent player a record five times.
Handed the captaincy by former coach Anthony Seibold last year, a string of injuries meant he managed just eight games in 2020 as the Broncos collected their first wooden spoon.
They sit second last with just five wins from 21 games this season, but have shown signs of life in recent weeks.
“I’m competing as hard as I can but the weekly struggle is getting harder and harder,” he said of his decision to retire.
“On my days off I was spending more time recovering and not being there for my kids and that was a big factor, not being the dad I could be.
“I know I’m still competing well. But could I do it for one more year? Probably not and I didn’t want to be the player that hung on too long.”
His retirement will leave Walters on the hunt for a new captain to begin his second year at the helm.
Glenn vouched for Patrick Carrigan, who has deputised for him over the last two seasons, while Payne Haas has emerged as a pack general with premiership-winning halfback Adam Reynolds arriving from South Sydney as a ready-made leader next season.