The beer that fuelled a grand final hero’s NRL comeback
Jason Nightingale's Nines comeback with St George Illawarra was born over a beer with the club's football manager at a Christmas party.
Nightingale will don the boots for the first time since retiring in 2018 after agreeing to join the Dragons' squad for this weekend's Nines in Perth.
The Red V fan favourite is ready to fire following a summer of running, but he freely admits he wasn't feeling as confident when the idea was first floated as he sipped on his cold festive season beverage.
"Well I hadn't gone for a run for 18 months, so I wasn't exactly in peak condition," said Nightingale, who played 266 NRL games for St George Illawarra, including a premiership in 2010.
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"But it was the bug that I needed to force myself to go for a run and I just thought playing in the Nines would be something fun to do.
"I did have a few nerves, so I made sure I did some serious training after Christmas because previous to that I was just doing two weights sessions a week.
"When I first started running I was struggling, but I've slowly got back to the point where I feel confident conditioning wise."
Nightingale has also completed sessions with his former Dragons teammates and NRL rivals in a bid to regain full fitness.
"I started training with Tyson Frizell and James Graham while I went to Reborn Gym at Taren Point and I did a few sessions with Boyd Cordner, Adam Reynolds, Damien Cook and the Morris twins.
"I also did a few lonely sessions at a gym near my cafe, so I feel like I'm ready to go.
"Thankfully the benefit is that no one is really match fit in the Nines because it is the start of the season.
"If people were match fit, I'd be worried."
Nightingale will join an illustrious list of retired players donning the boots at the Nines in Perth.
These include premiership Bulldogs captain Andrew Ryan, super fit ex- Newcastle skipper Kurt Gidley and 2005 title-winning Wests Tigers hero Pat Richards.
"It is cool having that crew," Nightingale said.
"Bobcat does training sessions with former players and he is still super fit.
"Having those guys play definitely takes away a bit of anxiety. If I was the only former player it would have been pretty stressful.
"I suppose that is the best thing about playing in the Nines - they can wheel out the old fellas and blood some young fellas with a bit more speed in their legs."
Nightingale is pumped to play in the Nines, but he insists that his stint won't prompt a comeback.
"No," he said frankly.
"Jeremy Latimore is trying to get me to play down in the Illawarra competition, but I'm not really super keen.
"Nathan Fien also coaches down there and they've been both hitting me up, more in jest.
"I've had my little six week period of running to get fit, but to be able to maintain that might be a bit more difficult."
RETIRED NRL STARS PLAYING IN THE 2020 NINES
Kurt Gidley (Newcastle Knights)
Andrew Ryan (Canterbury Bulldogs)
Pat Richards (Wests Tigers)
Jason Nightingale (St George Illawarra)
Corey Parker (Brisbane Broncos)
Michael Gordon (Gold Coast Titans)