Aaron Sandilands’ 18th season in the AFL will be his last with the ruckman deciding to retire at the end of the 2019 season following a decorated career.
The star veteran will play a farewell home game in front of the Purple Army on Saturday night when Freo take on Essendon at Optus Stadium.
The 36-year-old has transformed the role of AFL ruckmen, racking up previously unthinkable hitout numbers as the number of stoppages in the game increased.
He currently holds the career-record for hitouts with 8466 from his 270 games to date, averaging 28.2 per game.
Considering his age and size – standing at 211cm and weighing 118kg – Sandilands has shown incredible durability at AFL level.
In 2018, he became the first 35-year-old to represent Fremantle and he has since played a further five games at the age of 36 in 2019.
He is set to finish his career having played the third-most games for the club, trailing only Matthew Pavlich (353 games) and David Mundy (currently on 314).
Taken at pick no.33 in the 2002 rookie draft, Sandilands went on to earn four All Australian jumpers (2008, 2009, 2010, 2014) and two Doig Medals (2009 and 2015).
He spent 10 years in Fremantle’s leadership group between 2009 and 2018 and he won two Ross Glendinning Medals in round 17, 2009, and round 18, 2010.
Earlier this season, Sandilands was named in the ruck in Fremantle’s 25 since ’95 team, earning more votes from the fans than any other player.
Sandilands has also been a key driver of the club’s long-standing relationship with the Starlight Children’s Foundation, becoming an ambassador for the Starlight Purple Haze Game in 2007.
Since then, Sandilands has helped the club and its fans raise more than $1.5 million to help improve the lives of seriously ill children and their families.
While Sandilands’ form in the past month has shown that he will retire at the peak of his abilities, he said he made the decision to call time on his career after battling a calf injury earlier this season.
“It’s all over and I’ve decided to retire. It’s obviously been a good journey but it’s my time to hang up the boots and move on to something else in life,” Sandilands said.
“It’s been a really frustrating year in terms of not being able to play enough footy. The body is at the point now where I can’t get enough kms in the legs to be fit enough.”
Sandilands said part of his motivation to return for the second half of the season was to have the chance to show his appreciation to the fans and those who have supported him along the way.
“I had a bit of a talk with family and friends (earlier in the year) and I was keen just to walk off into the sunset to be honest,” Sandilands said.
“(The farewell game) is probably not about me, it’s about being able to say thank you to the people who have done so much (for me) along the way and have been able to help me out and to get me to where I am now.
“To be able to go out there on Saturday night and say one last thank you to all the fans, who have been riding the highs and lows along the way as well, it will be pretty special.”
General manager of football Peter Bell was effusive in his praise for the Fremantle legend.
“It’s safe to say that the AFL will never see another player like Aaron,” Bell said.
“Aaron has the uncanny ability to make the difficult look easy, but no-one worked harder than him to be at his fittest and strongest every game day.
“He is the model of what it means to be a Fremantle Docker. His work off the field to mentor our younger players has been second-to-none.
“He is often the first to put his hand up to host our first-year players when they arrive in WA, and he was a key off-field mentor for Next Generation Academy signing Jason Carter, who recently made his debut for the club.
“While we will no longer have Aaron helping win the ball our way beyond 2019, his contribution will be felt for many years to come.”