Latimore to finally fulfil seven-year vow

Dragons forward Jeremy Latimore will finally fulfil a promise to play one final season with former Parramatta team-mate Jimmy Grehan after announcing his retirement from the NRL at the end of St George Illawarra's Telstra Premiership campaign.

At the end of every season since 2012, Latimore has told Grehan that they would play together and each time he has reneged on the annual vow after being offered another one-year deal with an NRL club.

Latimore even discussed going to Super League with Grehan, who had a stint with Castleford Tigers before returning home to play for Illawarra Cutters in 2012.

However, the veteran prop, who returns from a knee injury in Sunday's match against Parramatta at Netstrata Jubilee Stadium, has since played for Penrith, Cronulla and the Dragons.

"We were lucky enough to play at the Cutters together when I got back from the UK and from then he just picked up contracts," Grehan said. "I think he might have even got a two-year deal at Penrith one time.

"Every year he says, 'if nothing comes up we'll get together again' and I've just been trying to push out year after year waiting for him but I don't think I've got too many more left in me."

After 177 NRL matches over 11 seasons for the Eels (2009), Warriors (2010-11), Dragons (2012, 2018-19), Panthers (2013-16) and Sharks (2017), Latimore is considered the game's ultimate journeyman. He also represented the Prime Minister's XIII in 2015 against PNG.

The 32-year-old has only started in 19 NRL matches but is considered a valuable member of any squad and is popular among team-mates wherever he has played.

"He is a good bloke to have around the team," St George Illawarra prop Paul Vaughan said. "He always lightens the mood when it needs to be lightened and he is a good squad player, you know you can always rely on him when he is on the field."

A Port Macquarie Sharks junior, Latimore joined Cronulla in 2006 before moving to the Eels.

"When I went to Parramatta the first person I interacted with was him," Grehan said. "We had to go on a camp to the Central Coast and he rang me and said 'you're coming from Wollongong, what if we share a lift'.

"I remember picking him up and he had said 'I'm the big goofy looking bloke with the silly hat'. He was right. I was thinking this bloke isn't a footy player, let alone a front-rower, but he has done alright for himself."

Off the field, Latimore completed a Bachelor of Business degree in 2016 and he has been a keen advocate for player education in his role as a director of the RLPA.

RLPA general manager of stakeholder relations Clint Newton said it was an indication of how widely respected his former Panthers team-mate was within the game that Latimore had been welcomed back by clubs he'd previously played for.

"From the time that I met him he has always been about helping other people and he is also so relatable which is why he gets on with so many other people," Newton said. "He would bounce around with his big smile and his big laugh and connect with all people of different ages, different cultures and different playing abilities.

"It can be challenging if you've got a wife and kids moving from club to club but knowing that you are always welcome back at a club speaks volumes and Jeremy can be really proud of himself in that he did the best he could with the tools he had and that's all you can ever ask for in a team-mate and a player in the NRL.

"I think the biggest thing that Jeremey has done in the last few years outside of what he was doing in his day-to-day stuff at club land was to add value and make a contribution to the collective group of players. That is a really selfless act. That's why he is respected and that is why he will always be respected."

After his playing commitments with St George Illawarra finish at the end of the season, Latimore will work as a mortgage broker with former Sharks and Dragons fullback Tony Caine, who is a director of Next Lending Solutions.

"Nothing's ever guaranteed for me, I've been on year to year contracts and I've treated every year like it could be my last," Latimore said.

"Being a professional footballer's a great job and I've never taken it for granted. That's the mindset I've had the last few years, I just love coming to training and being around the boys."

While his battle with an ongoing knee injury helped convince Latimore that now was the right time to end his NRL career, he also wanted to honour his promise to play with Grehan.

"If I had of gone again I don't know if the old boy would've been able to play again next year," Latimore said. "He's aging very quickly. I'll have to get him in shape, he'll probably sell me as a package deal so he can get a spot. He'll probably take my money too."