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Jennings leads Roosters out on ground in downplayed 300th game celebrations

Andrew Mathieson -

The NRL snubbed the official 300th game celebrations of Michael Jennings, but the Sydney Roosters almost disobediently asked the 35-year-old to lead out his teammates  onto the ground anyway in just his second NRL appearance in almost four years.

Flanked by his two children, Jennings came out of the tunnel first for one of his three career clubs on the promise to commemorate the milestone match.

The Roosters had previously said they would mark the veteran centre’s achievement behind closed doors, which the 22-20 tight win over Newcastle most definitely giving the club further cause to get around Jennings.

While the fanfare was downgraded compared to the past 51 players who achieved the feat – all bar Terry Lamb in 1996 and Geoff Gerard in 1989 – during the NRL era since 1998, the Newcastle ground announcer did mention Jennings 300th to polite applause.

However, that did not last after his first touch of the ball was met with the customary boos from the Knights faithful and continues every time Jennings touched the ball.

But there was no NRL official on hand for a presentation of a plaque, the game ball or a speech since chief executive Andrew Adbo rule against recognising the milestone.

The reasons why the NRL has taken this stance follows his three-year ban in 2021 for taking performance-enhancing drugs, along with a 2021 civil case in which his former wife won damages from Jennings for sexual and verbal abuse.

Jennings never faced criminal charges after denying the allegations of raping former partner Kirra Wilden repeatedly.

But a NSW District Court judge found in her favour on the balance of probability in the civil matter, ordering Jennings to fork out nearly $500,000 in damages.

Roosters coach Trent Robinson had only last week been forced to defend bringing the Tongan international, who also has Samoan and Micronesian roots, back into the NRL since his last appearance for Parramatta in a 2020 final against Melbourne.

Robinson briskly refuted suggestions the Roosters “does not take the safety of women seriously” after pointing out the differences between a criminal and a civil case in response to Wilden’s critical public comments earlier at both the NRL and over ticking off the return of Jennings back to a former club.

Jennings, who started his career at Penrith and looked like ending his time in the NRL at Parramatta, returned for his 299th NRL game last week as the side’s allowed head injury assessment (HIA) reserve.

Jennings fumbled the ball with his best attacking chance in the first half against the Knights, but he could have scored after the interval had Victor Radley dished off an inside ball to the 300th player, who was left totally unmarked.

Roosters skipper Luke Keary attended the standard NRL sanctioned post-match press conference after the win where during a milestone, Jennings would have taken his place if not for the snub.

Keary was on the front foot to defend Jennings’ presence back at the club for the first time since his third year with the Roosters in 2015.

“The way we’ve seen him come back and fight really hard for a place in the squad, he’s been such a good influence on the squad,” Keary said on Thursday night.

“We talked about him yesterday (how) it’s not just his comeback – he played 298 games and was the best centre in the world for a period – and he’s represented his people out west (of Sydney) and from Tonga. We’re super proud of him.

“To see his kids tonight, and his family yesterday, it was special.”

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