Alex Johnston has brought up his 150th try for South Sydney – and his second successive hat trick – to lead South Sydney to a comfortable 30-16 Saturday afternoon victory on the Gold Coast.
As for previous articles in this series, I will attempt to put together a quality team for each NRL club made up solely of players since 1980 who never went beyond club level. The criteria for selection is:
– No representing at senior level: internationals, State of Origin, Prime Minister’s XIII, City vs Country or All Stars.
– Current players are excluded.
– Players are only eligible for the club they played the most first grade games for.
Note: for this side I have combined the 234 different versions of the Gold Coast to have graced the league since 1988. There are a fair few long-term players here, but not too many with a winning record.
Fullback: William Zillman (156 matches) – 2009-2017. 68 wins 88 losses. 43 tries. 3 finals 1 win
I’ve previously written about Zillman in my Alphabet Teams series. His surname is always going to get him a run.
William Zillman burst onto the league scene, tearing the lower grades apart and being selected for the under-19s Queensland side and the Junior Kangaroos in 2005. He debuted for Canberra, but never quite made the jump from prodigy to reliable first grader.
Zillman joined the Titans in 2009 and the change suited him. He enjoyed a successful career with the club, playing over 150 games in nine seasons and captaining them during their 2016 finals campaign. After four relatively injury-free years, however, Zillman never managed to play 20 games in any of his last five seasons.
Post-retirement, Zillman has moved into horse training and veterinary medicine.
Clinton Mohr (82) – 1990-1994. 15 wins 65 losses. 19 tries
Clinton Mohr was one of many members of the Brothers Brisbane Rugby League side that won the final top-tier BRL grand final in 1987 to graduate to the NSWRL. In fact, Mohr scored a try in the grand final and won the Rugby League Week Player of the Year for the Brisbane comp. A number of Brothers alumni went to St George and that is where Mohr played for two years from 1988.
Mohr joined the Gold Coast in 1990, and for the next five seasons was one of their most consistent performers during a difficult period for the club, as demonstrated by his win/loss record above.
Post-retirement Mohr has had a successful career as a lawyer.
Jordan Atkins (30) – 2008-2013. 15 wins 15 losses. 8 tries. 3 finals 1 win
After slogging it out in the Queensland Cup for Burleigh for a couple of seasons, the Stanthorpe Gremlins junior had an NRL debut to remember in 2008, scoring no less than four tries in his first match. He didn’t quite kick on to fulfil that promise, playing just 28 games for the Gold Coast across three seasons and only ever scoring another four tries in total.
Atkins moved to Parramatta for a couple of seasons in 2011 but only played 12 first grade games. He returned to the Gold Coast in 2013 but was rarely sighted in first grade, before heading off to England with the London Broncos.
Luke O’Dwyer (101) – 2007-2013. 46 wins 55 losses. 19 tries.
Luke O’Dwyer was one of the Titans’ best, playing over 100 games for the club. He was a local Tweed Heads junior but got his initial chance at Parramatta, where he played 26 games over three seasons. When the Titans were formed, O’Dwyer became part of the club’s first season in 2007. Despite being a fixture in the side, he was out injured for both of the Titans’ finals series in 2009 and 2010.
A versatile player equally at home at centre or in the back row, in 2017 O’Dwyer was named on the bench in the Titan’s Team of the Decade.
Steve Michaels (60) – 2010-2014, 23 wins 37 losses. 23 tries. 2 finals 1 loss.
Steve Michaels spent six years at the Broncos, becoming a regular first grader in 2007 and 2009, before joining the Gold Coast for a further five years (but significantly, for one more match – 60 vs 59).
His time in the NRL was blighted by injury (including missing a premiership in 2006) and he only played 20 games in a season twice over ten years. In 2007, Michaels was selected for the Prime Minister’s XIII to play Papua New Guinea after having his best season in Brisbane, scoring ten tries in 25 games. In another bout of bad fortune for him but good fortune for me, Michaels had to pull out due to illness.
Michaels’ time at the Gold Coast was a similar story: some good seasons in amongst injuries, showing how good he could have been with a clear run. Equally at home at centre or wing, Michaels scored three doubles for the club and played in their 2010 finals series after coming into the side in Round 20.
Michaels finished up in the English Super League for a three-year stint with Hull FC, where he won a Challenge Cup over Warrington in 2016. Ironically, these were Michaels’ healthiest years.
Note: if I included the World Club Challenge, Michaels actually played 60 games for each club and did spend an extra year in Brisbane. He won more games there but scored more tries for the Gold Coast. Flip of a coin, really.
Five-eighth: Albert Kelly (33) – 2013-2014. 16 wins 17 losses. 16 tries
The talented but erratic Albert Kelly has so far played more games for the Gold Coast than that team up the road, so gets the No.6 position. There are other players who racked up more matches for the Titans, but none had anything approaching a nearly 50 per cent win record and 16 tries in just 33 games.
To demonstrate his talents, in 2014 Kelly only played 12 games for the club, winning seven. Without Kelly they only won two from their other 12 games.
Kelly spent a couple of years bouncing around in Cronulla, before another two on the Gold Coast. Despite his talents, there was too much baggage, so the young man was set adrift and ended up playing six seasons between the two Hull clubs in England (where, incidentally, he still scored 67 tries in only 115 appearances).
This included the 2015 Challenge Cup Final where unfortunately his Hull Kingston Rovers were walloped by a record 50 to zip by Leeds. He made amends two years later when Hull FC defeated Wigan in the final with Kelly at five-eighth.
That record led to an SOS from the Broncos in 2021, where the veteran has played a dozen games and was first choice five-eighth for this year until his tendency to find trouble as much as tries came to the fore once more.
Halfback: Wes Patten (43) – 1997-1998. 14 wins 28 losses. 16 tries. 2 finals 1 win
This was a tough spot to fill. Inaugural Seagulls half Geoff Bagnall played over 50 games for the club and more recently Kane Elgey showed some promise. But in the end I’ve gone for journeyman Wes Patten. Patten gets the nod on the strength of leading his side to their first ever finals campaign in the 1997 ARL competition.
Patten had spent four years with Balmain, mainly as a bench player. He started 1997 for the Chargers in the same position but by Round 3 was the starting halfback as the club went all the way to the major qualifying final before succumbing to the Sydney Roosters.
The following year in a combined competition, the Chargers reverted to type and only won three games for the season before disappearing from the competition. Patten must have had an instinct because he then moved to Souths for a season before they too were kicked out. He finished with a season at St George Illawarra but never recaptured the lightning from 1997.
Post-retirement, Patten has worked in TV, getting a gig on Home and Away and then as a presenter for the Barefoot Rugby League Show on NITV. As late as 2019, 45-year-old Patten was turning out for the Matraville Tigers in the South Sydney district A-Grade competition.
Lock: Robert Simpkins (72) – 1988-1991. 13 wins 56 losses. 1 try
Robert Simpkins played 160 first grade games in an 11-year career in the NRL. After spending time with Souths as a centre and then Easts as a hooker, Simpkins became a key signing for the Gold Coast Seagulls as they entered the NSWRL, playing mostly as a lock forward.
Simpkins gave good service, playing at least 15 games each year across the club’s first four seasons. He later helped set up the Gold Coast Old Boys across the 257 versions of the club.
Robert’s son, Ryan Simpkins, also played for the Titans between 2015 and 2018.
Brendan Hurst (74) – 1994-1997. 22 wins 49 losses. 8 tries 125 goals. 3 FG
Brendan Hurst played for the Gold Coast Seagulls and Chargers between 1994 and 1997. He holds the record as the highest point-scorer across the two clubs with 289, but unfortunately missed the club’s 1997 finals series.
Hurst subsequently played three seasons for the Sydney Roosters before retiring and later was the CEO of the Ipswich Jets in the Queensland Rugby League.
Brett Horsnell (82) – 1989-1994. 14 wins 65 losses. 4 tries
Brett Horsnell played over 150 first grade games in the NRL for the Gold Coast, the South Queensland Crushers and Parramatta. After six solid years for a largely unsuccessful side, Horsnell came close to representative selection in 1995 when the ARL-only Queensland side was left short for Game 3. He missed out, however, as captain Trevor Gillmeister got out of his hospital bed to help win the game for the Maroons.
After joining Parramatta, Horsnell final got to taste finals footy in their 1996 campaign.
In later years, Horsnell has suffered terribly from the effects of up to 50 concussions sustained during his playing career and in 2017 took legal action against the NRL for compensation.
Matthew White (125) – 2009-2015. 56 wins 69 losses. 1 try. 4 finals 1 win
Matthew White was a hard-working prop for the Titans over seven seasons and was the 11th Gold Coast player to register 100 games for the club. White first played for Newcastle, appearing in 28 first grade games over four years. His career took off at the Titans, where he played at least 19 games per season for five seasons and was involved in the club’s finals campaigns in 2009 and 2010.
After leaving the Gold Coast in 2016, White played only a couple of games for the Storm before finishing his career with Easts and then Burleigh in the Queensland Cup, where he was player of the year in 2017.
White scored a grand total of one single try across his ten seasons in the NRL.
Michael Henderson (78) – 2007-2012. 35 wins 43 losses. 4 finals 1 win
Henderson was a product of St George, where he played 40 games between 2003 and 2006. He joined the Titans in their first season and despite suffering a broken leg that year, he cemented his place in first grade in 2009 and played in the club’s 2009 and 2010 finals campaigns.
In 2013, Henderson left the club to return to St George Illawarra, but was troubled by injuries and only made a single appearance in first grade before retiring form top-level football and heading to play for the Thirroul Butchers in the Illawarra Coal Cup competition. He later won a premiership in that competition as captain/coach of the Dapto Canaries.
Hooker: Ray Herring (56) – 1991-1994. 9 wins and 44 losses. 9 tries
Wynnum-Manly product Ray Herring joined the Broncos for their entry into the NSWRL, where he spent his time behind firstly Greg Conescu then Kerrod Walters. In 1990, Herring was captain as the Broncos reserve grade team won the club’s first premiership. He scored the decisive try in extra time after kicking out from marker in the play-the-ball.
Herring joined the Gold Coast in 1991 and became the regular starting hooker for the Gold Coast in the early 1990s when the club struggled to make any impact on the competition. He moved to the South Queensland Crushers in 1995 for their entry into the competition but only appeared a few times.
Herring did, however, throw the pass that hit Mario Fenech square on the head to play a part in bringing ‘The Falcon’ into the English language.
Tony Durheim (78) – 1989-1998. 17 wins 59 losses. 2 tries
Lismore product Tony “Bull” Durheim was a long-serving member of the Gold Coast, playing ten seasons with the club. The second rower played in the jerseys of the Giants, Seagulls, Gladiators and Chargers before retiring when the club folded and returning to Lismore.
Durheim later became the president of the Northern Rivers Regional Rugby League. His nephew Jack Durheim played for the Titans to complete the family set of jerseys.
Danny Peacock (67) – 1991-1995. 12 wins 52 losses. 28 tries
Danny Peacock joined the Gold Coast in 1991 after establishing himself as a first grade winger then fullback with Wests. He played five years for the Coast before spending a season with the South Queensland Crushers. Peacock then moved to play for the Bradford Bulls in England, completing a 12-year career with nearly 180 first grade games.
He managed to pick up five wooden spoons across three clubs during his career in Australia, but once he moved to England enjoyed more success, winning the 1997 and 199 Super League minor premierships and scoring a try in the Bulls’ 1997 Challenge Cup final loss to St Helens.
Keegan Hipgrave (40) – 2017-2020. 22 wins 27 losses. 3 tries
Keegan Hipgrave had his career unfortunately cut short. After a debut in 2017, the local junior cemented a starting spot with the Titans the following year and played 40 matches for the club.
Hipgrave joined Parramatta in 2021 but was forced into retirement due to repeated concussions, in the same year as Roosters Boyd Cordner and Jake Friend. He was just 24.
Hipgrave had previously completed a business degree and is doing an MBA.
Jamal Fogerty on playing with Hipgrave: “Keegs is a bit nuts in the head at times. He is tough as, one of the toughest blokes I have ever met.”
Ben Ridge (58) – 2010-2015. 24 wins 34 losses. 1 try
Roma boy Ben Ridge alternated between second row and the bench over a six-year career with the Titans. Coming through the club’s under-20s and Tweed Heads Seagulls Q Cup team, Ridge’s best years were 2012 and 2013 when he played 17 games each season.
Ridge’s career was cruelled by an extensive injury list: a broken ankle (in his first season), bad hamstring tear, cracked sternum, two pectoral tears, dislocated shoulder, groin surgery and posterior cruciate ligament damage. He announced his retirement and return to Roma at just 25 years old.