Premiership-winning Cowboys winger Antonio Winterstein has announced his immediate retirement from the NRL due to ongoing issues arising from a chronic knee injury he has managed throughout his career.
Winterstein joined the Cowboys in 2011 after playing his first two years for the Broncos, amassing 167 games for North Queensland and retiring as the club's fifth highest try-scorer.
The winger made the emotional announcement while sitting next to football manager Peter Parr who was instrumental in recruiting Winterstein, as well as family and teammate Gavin Cooper, and was disappointed that his career had ended prematurely.
"I've been battling a knee injury since my debut in 2009. Throughout the years I've been able to manage it but due to medical advice and based on recent scans and in consideration of my health and well-being for my future I have made the difficult decision to retire," Winterstein said.
"Firstly I would like to thank my entire family, especially my wife and my three beautiful children for allowing me to live out my dream.
"To the coaching staff, medical staff, past and present players, thanks for the opportunity to wear this Cowboys jersey that meant so much to me.
"Every time I put that jersey on I felt invincible. It's a feeling that I can't describe.
"I am honoured and privileged to be be a part of such a special club."
Winterstein's knee has deteriorated in 2018, and the winger with a reputation for being team-first made the decision to retire based partly on his ability to fulfil his role as a part of the team.
"The last couple of months there's been a big change in how the knee is feeling and it got a bit unbearable to walk after games and I knew something was wrong," he said.
"When it was affecting my ability to do my job for my teammates I knew it was time.
"When I know it's affecting my ability to do my job on the field, the last thing I want to do is be a passenger out there and I felt like that the last couple of weeks."
Parr said Winterstein had been one of the toughest members at the club, playing through chronic injury while always putting his body on the line.
"We were very fortunate that he came to play for our club. Over the last eight years since he's played here he's been one of the main contributors to what's happened at the club and the professionalism and the culture that's been set," Parr said.
"Not only with the way he played but with the way he applied himself to training and the way he conducted himself.
"It's been one of the great Cowboy careers and we've been blessed to have had him."
Parr gave Winterstein perhaps the ultimate accolade, commending his talents as vital to the club's achievements in recent years.
"We wouldn't have been able to achieve everything we've done since he's been here without him," he said.
"I think he's been a very good player for a long time but I think potentially off the field we've had some great leaders here… this fellow in the background has done some wonderful things for our culture.
"The way he's applied himself and the discipline and helping us set standards that will stay at this club long after everyone else has gone.
"Some of the things that he's done here will last forever at this club."