There is no secret I still love what I do
Legendary Wallaby utility back and former Australian national team captain Stirling Mortlock has announced he will end his illustrious career when the Super Rugby regular season finishes next month.
The 35-year-old Rebels captain will play his last game on Australian soil when he leads the Rebels out against Super Rugby champions Reds in Melbourne next Friday, June 29.
He will then end his career in South Africa where the Rebels play their last two matches and complete their season as they are not in finals contention.
Centre Mortlock has battled calf muscle injuries this season - his second of a three-year deal with the fledgling Rebels - and only made his season start in round 12.
Mortlock played 80 Tests for the Wallabies, amassing 489 points.
At his peak, Mortlock, a powerful runner and defender, was one of the best outside centres in world rugby.
He has played more than 140 Super Rugby games, spending most of his career at the Brumbies, where he made his debut in 1998.
He remains the highest-scoring Australian in Super Rugby history, the only Australian to rack up more than 1000 points.
"There's no secret I still love what I do and still love playing. It's more about my body," said Mortlock.
"Being on the sidelines for nine of 10 weeks this season was extremely frustrating and tough. My body is back in the shape I want it to be but I think it is the right time [to retire]."
He was plucked from club side Gordon in 1997 by then Wallaby coach Rod Macqueen to tour Argentina at just 20 years of age. Mortlock would have to wait until 2000 to make his debut for the Wallabies, but Macqueen clearly saw something special in the young centre.
In 1998, Mortlock signed with the ACT Brumbies and six years later, he took over from George Gregan as captain, leading the side to the Super 12 Title in the same year. This would be Mortlock's second Title, after the Brumbies previous success in 2001.
Two years later, Mortlock was named as the 73rd captain of the Wallabies and went on to become the Wallabies fourth longest serving Captain.
His 489 international points rank him fourth on the all-time scoring list for the Wallabies while his haul of 29 tries is the seventh-most of any Australian international.
After leaving the Brumbies at the end of 2010, Mortlock signed on as captain with the Rebels for the Victorian sides inaugural season of Super Rugby. Mortlock currently sits on 20 Super Rugby caps for the Rebels and 143 overall.
Mortlock was joined at Monday's announcement by Rebels CEO Steven Boland, who said that it was difficult to sum up the incredible career of Mortlock in a few words.
"What can you say about someone who has played such an integral role in rugby union in this country?" Boland said.
"Stirling's contribution to the game has been significant and his legacy goes well beyond just the Rebels. His playing career with the Brumbies, Wallabies and the Rebels has been nothing short of incredible, and he retires as a true legend of the game.
"There are too many moments of Mortlock brilliance to mention them all, but from a Rebels perspective, it is difficult to go past his match winning try against the Brumbies in 2011. It was fitting that Stirling would score our first ever try against his former side, in what was a memorable night. It would also be remiss of me not to mention his man of the match performance against the All Blacks in the 2003 World Cup Semi-Final, which included an 80 meter intercept try to set up a memorable win for Australia.
"In the early stages of our club, then Head Coach and now Director of Rugby Rod Macqueen insisted that Stirling was the man to lead us into our first season. Rod and Stirling had built a strong relationship over a number of years and the club was thrilled to get them together again at the Rebels. Since joining the club, Mortlock has been instrumental in establishing our club and it's culture. His leadership has been crucial and this contribution will hold us in good stead moving forward.
"On behalf of the Victorian rugby union community I would like to thank Stirling for his tremendous service and I am sure his legacy will live on for many years to come."
Rebels coach Damien Hill also spoke of Mortlock's influence on the emerging Rebels.
"As a start up club, it is vital that you have the right leadership in place," Hill said.
"We needed someone to steer the ship on the field and I could not think of a stronger leader than Stirling, he has an uncompromising attitude towards his training and preparation, which makes him an example for the younger players to follow. I truly believe that the example Stirling has set, will pay dividends as our younger players develop in future years. The next generation of leaders at our club will now follow a path that was forged by Stirling over the past 2 seasons."
It was an emotional day for Mortlock, who said he was still coming to terms with his retirement.
"Since my first Wallabies tour in 1997 I have been able to travel the world, with some amazing people, while playing the game I love," Mortlock said.
"It really has been an incredible journey and it will take some time for this to sink in. It is impossible for me to acknowledge all of the people who have helped me throughout my career, but I must mention my beautiful wife Caroline and our three children.
"Without the love and support of my family, I would never have achieved all that I have. I would also like to thank the Brumbies, the Wallabies and of course the Rebels for their support over the years, I feel a great sense of pride in representing these great teams.
"However, my immediate focus remains on finishing my career with the Rebels on a positive note. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time in Melbourne, our supporters have given us such amazing support and I am looking forward to saying goodbye at our final game against the Reds at AAMI Park on June 29."