Every player who pulls on a rugby league jersey knows that the time will come when they’ll do that for the last time. The fortunate ones will do that on their own terms. For others, the decisions are made for them.
One of the toughest blokes to don the Blue and Gold, Kaysa Pritchard, has unfortunately been forced into premature retirement due to serious injury.
When future supporters of the game look back at the record books, they’ll read that Kaysa Pritchard played 47 NRL games for the Parramatta Eels. His career wrapped up at 25 years of age. Playing a single game of first grade is something that many talented footballers have never achieved, but to summarise Pritchard the player with a number like that is a cruel injustice.
Many Eels supporters know the gallant number 9 as a fierce competitor who’s had an injury disrupted career. Whilst this is undisputed, there is more to acknowledge about this man.
After debuting in Round 8 of 2013, those six seasons of NRL for the Cabramatta junior have yielded less than 50 games for Parramatta. This has not been due to loss of form, nor has it been due to niggling injuries. Each hurdle has been substantial. Saying he bled for the Parramatta Eels does not come close to describing the punishment his body has endured.
For every setback that Pritchard has endured in his career, there’s been that extended period of rehabilitation. Those were the times that questions were asked not just of his body, but of his mind. Consider for a moment his resilience and tenacity to fight his way back from each significant injury.
I’ve lost count of the weeks of training when I’ve watched him battle away in the rehab group, or on his own. The respect that he’s earned from Brad Arthur, the coaches and players has been obvious, but he’s earned every shred of it. At peak fitness he’d be among the leading players in the drills, one of the fastest over 40 metres, his voice urging his mates on.
And every time that Kaysa returned to the field, that trademark “kamikaze” style of play for which he’s been renowned would not change. When he wore the Parra jersey, every opposition player felt his involvement in the contest, even if it was to the detriment of his own body.
For this bloke, there was no other way to play the game. There was no let up on the accelerator, no easing into corners. Everything about the dynamic dummy half was full throttle.
If you were to pick a single clash to honour Kaysa Pritchard the footballer, you’d go no further than the Round 8 clash against the Tigers from 2018. Awarded the Anzac Medal as best on the field, he produced the match clinching moment with an inspired defensive play.
With only two minutes left on the clock, and Parra clinging on to a two point lead, the Tigers were threatening to break open a tiring Eels defence. As 110kg Tigers forward and former Eel Josh Aloiai belted the ball up the middle, a dynamic Pritchard shot forced the ball loose and returned possession to the Eels to wrap up the game.
But you don’t earn best on field for one play. Look back at the footage and you’ll witness that same attitude leaving its mark on the opposition throughout the match. It epitomised Kaysa the footballer.
As an Eels supporter, I know I’ll always hear “what could have been” when Pritchard’s name is discussed. He played Under 20s Origin in 2014, and there was a genuine belief in the Parramatta camp that he had the potential to wear the sky blue at senior level.
Kaysa isn’t the first player to have to retire early. He won’t be the last.
But for me personally, I’m grateful that this tough bloke played for the team that I support. I know that he gave everything that he had to win every contest for Parra.
I’m also pleased for him that he was given the opportunity to play alongside his older brother Frank, and that he represented Samoa in three tests. He deserved such highlights.
Thank you for being a Parramatta Eel, Kaysa Pritchard. Have no regrets mate, because you honoured the jersey that you wore. May your future be filled with great joys and successes.