We often talk about club loyalty and pay homage to players who remain loyal to their clubs throughout their whole career.
These days, it seems that the ink on a contract is barely dry before a player is rumoured to be heading to another club, the English Super League, AFL, rugby or even the NFL, either for personal reasons or to ‘follow their dream’.
So, is loyalty now a thing of the past? Just how many one-club players of substance are there?
To be eligible, players needed to meet the following criteria:
• Currently retired from the game
• Played 200 or more first grade games for an existing NRL club
• Did not play first grade for any other club
I was surprised to find that there’s only about 40 who actually qualify. Obviously, if the bar was lowered to say 150 games, there’d be quite a few more.
From those who qualified, I picked the following team, using the All Stars approach of one player from each club.
Note that there were no qualifying players from the Gold Coast Titans, so after picking one player from each of the remaining 15 clubs, I then picked two wild cards – one from the Broncos and one from the Sharks.
Here’s the team of one-club stalwarts.
There are some absolute champions among them and they’d certainly take some beating:
1. Billy Slater
319 games over 16 seasons. Not a bad player to have at the back running off passes from Johns and Lockyer.
2. Hazem El Masri
317 games over 14 seasons. Probably the best ever goal-kicker and an often underrated winger who crossed for 159 tries for the Dogs.
3. Laurie Daley
244 games over 14 seasons. One of the best players of his generation who combined power running, great ball skills and punishing defence.
4. Steve Matai
Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles
230 games over 12 seasons. Both a clever centre and a punishing defender who was feared by opposition ball runners.
5. Jason Nightingale
St George Illawarra Dragons
266 games over 12 seasons. A very elusive runner and strong defender who could score the most freakish of tries.
6. Darren Lockyer
355 games over 17 seasons. Capable of doing anything on the field and a proven match-winner. He would be the team captain.
7. Andrew Johns
249 games over 15 seasons. Rugby league Immortal.
One of the best halves to ever take the field, and his combination with Lockyer would be lethal. Also a prolific goalkicker, in case El Masri can’t find his kicking tee.
8. Paul Gallen
348 games over 19 seasons. An incredibly durable player who will make the hard yards and the big tackles all day, and enjoy taking the fight to the opposition.
9. Royce Simmons
238 games over 12 seasons. Clever hooker and dummy half who combined ball skills with a high work rate. A tough and fearless player.
10. Matt Scott
North Queensland Cowboys
268 games over 16 seasons. The best front-rower in the game for much of his career.
Scott invariably dominated the opposition and gave his team a great go-forward platform.
11. Simon Mannering
New Zealand Warriors
301 games over 14 seasons. Relentless performer in both attack and defence.
Mannering never left anything on the paddock.
12. Nathan Hindmarsh
330 games over 15 seasons. Top-flight forward who always gave it all.
His combination with Mannering in the back row would be something to see.
13. John Sutton
South Sydney Rabbitohs
336 games over 16 seasons. The ideal lock forward, combining great ball skills and vision with excellent defence and a strong running game.
14. Mitch Aubusson
306 games over 14 seasons. A great choice as a bench player and can cover nearly every position on the field if required. Excellent all-round performer.
15. Chris Lawrence
253 games over 15 seasons. Another versatile player and never say die performer who could play wing, centre or second row at the highest level.
16. Corey Parker
347 games over 16 seasons. A tough forward who combined a high work rate with great attacking skills. One of the best.
17. Greg Pierce
210 games over 12 seasons. Began his career as a fullback and ended up at the back of the Australian scrum. Exceptionally talented player.