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Opinion

The 300-plus club: A story of rugby league longevity

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Roar Guru
14th March, 2022
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I recently posted an article naming a team made up of British rugby league players who had each played more than 500 games at the top level.

In fact between them they averaged an incredible 615 top-level games each.

So what about the NRL?

Well, no NRL player has ever passed the 500-game mark, with Cameron Smith the current NRL record holder with 430. It’s hard to imagine that many players will ever top Smith’s record, let alone pass the 500-game mark.

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In the history of the game in Australia only 40 players have played more than 300 games in the competitions run by the NSWRL/ARL/NRL, and the list makes for some interesting reading and some fun facts.

  • The first player to pass 300 games was Geoff Gerard way back in 1989.
  • The last player to pass 300 games was Mitchell Pearce in 2021.
  • Of the 40 players to do so, only five passed the 300-game mark prior to 2000.
  • All 40 of the 300-plus-game club played Test football with the exceptions of John Sutton, Mitch Aubusson and Gavin Cooper.
  • The list included 22 NSW and 11 Queensland Origin representatives, four Kiwis amd one ‘Englishman’ in Chris Heighington, with John Sutton and Mitch Aubusson the only players to play neither Origin nor Test football.
  • Of the 300 gamers, 20 were forwards and 14 were backs, while the following six played both with distinction: Brad Fittler, Luke Lewis, Jason Croker, Ruben Wiki, Mitch Aubusson and Luke Ricketson.
  • There are no current NRL players on the list.
  • The list includes one-club stalwarts in Cameron Smith, Darren Lockyer, Paul Gallen, Corey Parker, John Sutton, Nathan Hindmarsh, Billy Slater, Hazem El Masri, Mitch Aubusson, Sam Thaiday, Anthony Minichiello, Luke Ricketson and Simon Mannering.

So to balance the books with the Pommy legends, the best we can do is to come up with a team of players who have played more than 300 games each.

Here’s my take on the best team of players to have passed this mark. The number of first-grade games played is in brackets.

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Fullback: Billy Slater (319)

Who else? The best fullback of the NRL era. Other contenders were Darren Lockyer; Andrew Ettingshausen, who will be included in the team elsewhere; Anthony Minichiello; and Darius Boyd, who is truly ordinary.

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Wings: Andrew Ettingshausen (328) and Hazem El Masri (317)

ET was sensational anywhere in the outside backs and El Masri was a great winger who rarely made a mistake as well as being one of the best goal kickers of all time.

Other contenders were Luke Lewis, who will be included in the team elsewhere, and the aforementioned truly ordinary Darius Boyd.

Centres: Josh Morris (325) and Brad Fittler (336)

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Morris was an exceptional player who seemingly never had a bad game and was also a prolific try scorer. Fittler could tear any defence apart with his footwork and was a strong defender.

Five-eighth: Darren Lockyer (355)

He’s probably the best five-eighth of the NRL era. He controlled the game to perfection. Other contenders were Terry Lamb and Cliff Lyons.

Darren Lockyer scores a try for the Maroons

(Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

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Halfback: Johnathan Thurston (323)

It’s hard to go past JT despite the presence of some other strong contenders in Cooper Cronk, Benji Marshall, Mitchell Pearce and Brett Kimmorley.

Lock: Luke Lewis (324)

Lewis is one of those players who just won’t stop for 80 minutes. Not only is he a tough and tireless customer, but he also has all the skills. He finished ahead of ball hog Paul Gallen, Corey Parker, John Sutton, the versatile Jason Croker, Paul Langmack and Luke Ricketson.

Second row: Ruben Wiki (311) and Steve Menzies (349)

Wiki was an absolute weapon wherever he played on the field and was feared by the opposition. Menzies was back row attacking option without peer who knew the way to the try line.

Other contenders were Chris Heighington, Nathan Hindmarsh, Ryan Hoffman, Gavin Cooper, Mitch Aubusson, Anthony Watmough and Simon Mannering.

Front row: Petero Civoniceva (309) and Adam Blair (331)

Every side needs two tough hombres up front, and they don’t come any tougher or more relentless than this pair. Other eligible front-rowers in contention were Geoff Gerard, Steve Price, loopy Brent Kite and Sam Thaiday.

Hooker: Cameron Smith (430)

Naturally. Luke Priddis and Robbie Farah will just have to watch from the stands.

Cameron Smith of the Storm poses with the Premiership trophy

(Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Not surprisingly, given each player’s longevity and place in the game, this is quite a side.

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