Kennedy will be a key player for Manly in their battle for a top-four spot against Newcastle at EnergyAustralia Stadium tonight. Ben Kennedy's career is winding down, but his form suggests he is winding up for a grand finale, writes Glenn Jackson. BEN Kennedy's never been one to do anything at half pace. You tend to think he posts a letter with the same frenzied vigour with which he makes a tackle or pounds his body into another front-rower's shoulder. It's certainly how he's approaching retirement. Manly, from the top down, want to say goodbye to Kennedy like they want to say goodbye to the top four. The players, coach and officials have all whispered a word or two in his ear. The players at training, the coach in a cafe - the officials even offered to give his battered body a vastly reduced training regime if he would extend his first-grade career into its 12th year. But as he prepared to take on Newcastle tonight - the club that was his home for five of his 11 years in first grade - it appears there's about as much chance as him turning out next year as there is him running onto EnergyAustralia Stadium with Willie Mason's hairstyle. "Absolute zero," he said. "Million to one." The remarkable thing about Kennedy's impending retirement is that, rather than winding his career down as any 32-year-old with 192 games to their name - and probably as many breaks, tears and ruptures - could be entitled to, it's clear he is only winding up. The back-rower is arguably in career-best form. Every hit-up, every tackle, is like his last. Which is fair enough, because every hit-up and tackle he makes is edging him closer to his last. "Obviously when you get to the semis, you still want to be firing," Kennedy said. "But when every game's nearly your last, you can rip and tear and enjoy it. There's not too many to go. That's probably the reason why I'm playing fairly consistently well this year. It's getting close to my last game." Of his own form, he grins: "It's all right - if you want to give me a friggin' rap ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã‚Â¦ people keep telling me it's my best. So I guess it is." Still, he is adamant there will be no surprise encore, despite the hearty applause and repeated calls from his club. "It was more the players than anyone," he said. "Dessie [coach Des Hasler] did take me for a coffee and inquired ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã‚Â¦ but they respect my decision. They know when I said I'm retiring, that's it." That's not to say he hasn't had doubts. While he has admitted to scant regard to the day he does ice his last knee, hand, eye etc, he does concede he has had the occasional second thought. "I'm not really worrying about it too much yet," Kennedy said. "At the moment, there's too many important games to go. I'll worry about that once I finish. That's when you can get all emotional. It's been my whole life, and there've been terrific times. You're always nervous about quitting something when it's been you're whole life. Every now and then, you question whether it was the right decision ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã‚Â¦ but deep down, you know." For starters, there's the sniff of the only football he has to get out of bed for on a weekend being his two sons' junior footy. He talks about his eldest Bryce's semi-final on Saturday for the Harbord Devils with equal enthusiasm as he does his own clash tonight. That will be his only link to rugby league in retirement. "I'm best to cut my ties completely, get out of there," he said. "I'll live my career through them [my sons] now." Plus, there's fishing opportunities. There's no pre-season training requirements. There's business opportunities. But first, there's unfinished business, continuing tonight. "It's the last time I'll play there [in Newcastle], so it probably means a bit," he said. "A lot of them are my mates." Including Andrew Johns, the game's greatest, the Knights half, and one man who stands between Kennedy and the ultimate farewell. "The last game he played was one of his best for a while," he said. "You can tell when Joey's back on, he's yelling and clapping and screaming. He's doing all those things. He hadn't been doing that for a while. He's starting to hit his straps." But so are Manly, he says. The Sea Eagles, Kennedy feels, are building for something, winding up their own season with the sort of momentum he is winding up his retirement. How fitting it would be for this three-club body with a one-club heart, the man who puts the bad in bald, to wind up with another premiership ring in game 200. What a great ring that has.