If anyone deserved the perfect send-off, it was Rhali Dobson.
Not only did her 63rd minute goal help Melbourne City finish its season on a high with a 2-1 win over Perth, but the 28-year-old was caught by surprise as partner Matt Stonham proposed; a moment which melted the hearts of the Frank Holohan crowd and the thousands who caught it online.
It was the fairy-tale finish for one the competition’s most popular players; made even more special by the couple opening this next chapter where their relationship kicked off eight years ago – on a football pitch.
”I came across him when I was refereeing a soccer match on a very rainy day up in the Hunter Valley and he abused the living daylights out of me,’’ Dobson said.
”He was having the worst game of his life and then he continued to abuse me after the game, then we had a drink afterwards.’’
”He means everything to me he’s been through this move to Melbourne City. When I got the call I was really nervous because we had his diagnosis the first time and I didn’t want to lose any time with him.
”He said he’d put me in a box and ship me down if I didn’t go. If he never kicked me out that door I’d have never have had that success and made the history books with the club. He’s everything to me.’’
Dobson told ESPN during the week City’s final match of the 2021 W-League season would be her last, with her now fiancée set to begin aggressive radiotherapy and chemotherapy after scans back in March picked up a grade III brain tumour.
Stonham was diagnosed with cancer in 2015 after a seizure while playing football for his local side.
”Scans revealed a tumour which they acted quickly on and I had surgery which took me five months to recover from and six months of chemo and then I had been on the straight-and-narrow for five-and-half years,’’ he said.
”Now they’ve picked up something and we’re back on the same track with surgeries but it will be a bit more aggressive with radio and chemo. You have to get on top of it, you can’t let it go until the last second and I’ve got four amazing doctors that check up on me.’’
The couple will return to Newcastle, with Dobson also set to complete the Big Three Trek from Sydney to Newcastle in June to raise funds.
The 28-year-old forward retires as one of the W-League’s most loved figures – recognised on-the-field by the famous ribbons in her hair and off it by the noise her loyal fan-base would make every time she touched the ball.
She scored 14 goals in the W-League and was part of City’s invincible 2019/20 outfit which completed the premiership/championship double.