Cowboys winger Winterstein quits the NRL

Laine Clark
Persistent knee problems have forced NRL player Antonio Wintersein into retirement

Scan results have confirmed what North Queensland winger Antonio Winterstein has feared for weeks - his damaged knee can no longer handle the NRL.

Winterstein fought back tears when he announced that he had finally lost his battle with an ongoing knee injury and will retire effective immediately due to medical advice.

The Samoan international has been managing the knee complaint his entire career but recent scans convinced doctors that the Cowboys flyer had played the last of his 213 NRL games.

An emotional Winterstein said he had feared the worst in recent weeks after feeling like a "passenger" on the field for the Cowboys.

"The last thing I want to do is be a passenger out there. I have felt like that the last couple of weeks and it was really hard," he said.

"Throughout the years I have been able to manage it but due to medical advice and based on recent scans and consideration of my wellbeing for the future I made the difficult decision to retire.

"The only way to fix it is to stop doing what I am doing. It is hard to accept but then again it's something I have to do for my family.

"I have pretty active kids. I want to be able to chase them around the park."

Winterstein played 166 games for North Queensland after relocating from Brisbane in 2011.

He featured in the Cowboys' 2015 premiership win and 2016 World Club Challenge triumph.

The 30-year-old has been able to manage the knee injury since his NRL debut but said the pain had finally become too much.

"It's something I tried to ignore but it's something that had to happen," Winterstein said.

"The last couple of months has been a big change in the way the knee was feeling and it got a bit unbearable to even walk after games.

"When it was affecting my ability to do my job for my teammates I knew it was time."

Cowboys football boss Peter Parr admitted Winterstein's abrupt retirement was hard to take.

But he claimed North Queensland had better get used to tearful goodbyes.

Co-captain Johnathan Thurston bows out this year and the likes of veterans Matt Scott, Gavin Cooper and Scott Bolton are off contract in 2019.

"It is always heartwrenching when guys like this have to leave - it is one of the great Cowboys careers," Parr said of Winterstein.

"(But) we have to brace ourselves for the next few years because we have a few coming towards the end."