Monday 18 December 2017 / 02:54 AM

THE NRL’S MOST LOYAL

Loyalty of players to clubs, and vice versa, has been a perennial topic in the rugby league fraternity and amongst fans. The gradual eradication of the ‘one-club player’ is a fact of life in the business of professional sport, and player movement could reach an all-time high with an increased salary cap from 2018 set to trigger an unprecedented signing frenzy.

But loyalty still undoubtedly exists in the NRL – though some clubs have enjoyed its benefits more than others. We’ve trawled through all 16 squads and each club’s all-time appearances register to reveal the longest-serving clubmen in the premiership heading into 2017, along with the most loyal players the game has produced.

 

BRISBANE BRONCOS

Longest-serving players for 2017: Sam Thaiday (254), Andrew McCullough (196), Alex Glenn (191), Ben Hunt (166), Matt Gillett (153)

Players with 100+ games in 2016: 9

Players with 200+ games (all time): 11 – Darren Lockyer (355), Corey Parker (347), Michael Hancock (274), Allan Langer (258), Andrew Gee (255), Shane Webcke (254), Sam Thaiday (254), Kevin Walters (242), Petero Civoniceva (235), Tonie Carroll (218), Brad Thorn (200)

Even with Corey Parker and Jack Reed retiring, the Broncos have one of the NRL’s biggest stables of loyal clubmen. Five of their players have over 150 NRL games to their name, while Andrew McCullough and Alex Glenn are on the verge of 200 appearances. Furthermore, Brisbane still boasts five players who turned out for the club in the inaugural NYC grand final in 2008.

Although their relative geographic isolation is obviously a factor, the Broncos are proof that success – or the prospect of it – will breed loyalty. Nine of the club’s 11 players to make 200 appearances never played for a rival NRL club.

 

CANBERRA RAIDERS

Longest-serving players for 2017: Jarrod Croker (191), Shaun Fensom (139), Josh Papalii (129), Jack Wighton (94), Shannon Boyd (67), Edrick Lee (67)

Players with 100+ games in 2016: 3

Players with 200+ games (all time): 10 – Jason Croker (318), Laurie Daley (244), Simon Woolford (234), Steve Walters (228), Ruben Wiki (224), Alan Tongue (220), Ricky Stuart (203), Chris O’Sullivan (202), Dane Tilse (201), David Furner (201)

Ricky Stuart’s regeneration of the Raiders has left them a little skinny on veteran clubmen, but the prospect of a large number of the current crop playing 150+ games together in the lime green is high.

Canberra’s geographic isolation has arguably had the reverse effect on loyalty to the club on the whole, but like the Broncos, premiership success instilled plenty of faithfulness back in the Green Machine’s glory days. Six of the Raiders’ 10 200-gamers played together in the 1994 grand final.

 

CANTERBURY BULLDOGS

Longest-serving players for 2017: Josh Morris (173), Greg Eastwood (147), Aiden Tolman (141), Josh Reynolds (121), Sam Kasiano (117)

Players with 100+ games in 2016: 8

Players with 200+ games (all time): 10 – Hazem El Masri (317), Steve Mortimer (272), Terry Lamb (262), Steve Folkes (245), Chris Anderson (230), Luke Patten (225), Steve Price (222), Andrew Ryan (218), Corey Hughes (213), Eddie Burns (212)

Josh Morris and Greg Eastwood are the longest-serving current Bulldogs, both joining the club during its big buying spree of 2009. Tolman, Reynolds and Kasiano have all been regular fixtures in the blue and white since making their club debuts in 2011.

Known as ‘The Family Club, the dominant Canterbury sides of the 1980s produced four of the club’s 200-gamers, while Hughes and Price came through in the 1990s, and Ryan and Patten became institutions at the club in the 2000s after beginning their careers elsewhere.

 

CRONULLA SHARKS 

Longest-serving players for 2017: Paul Gallen (279), Wade Graham (137), Jayson Bukuya (108), Sam Tagataese (105), Andrew Fifita (102)

Players with 100+ games in 2016: 5

Players with 200+ games (all time): 8 – Andrew Ettingshausen (328), Paul Gallen (279), David Peachey (232), Mitch Healey (223), Dane Sorensen (216), Danny Lee (212), Greg Pierce (210), Steve Rogers (202)

The Sharks have built a solid core of loyalty, which is particularly impressive given the setbacks the club has endured in recent years, on top of an aggressive recruitment strategy over the past couple of seasons. Gallen is the only member of Cronulla’s current 100-game club that has played his entire NRL career in the Shire.

Cronulla has traditionally had one or two stalwarts that have stuck by the club through thick and thin; of their eight 200-gamers, only Rogers, who had a couple of years at St George, and Peachey, who finished his career at Souths, played for rival premiership teams. 

 

GOLD COAST TITANS

Longest-serving players for 2017: William Zillman (141), Ryan James (93), Anthony Don (66), Agnatius Paasi (43), Eddy Pettybourne (32)

Players with 100+ games in 2016: 5

Players with 200+ games (all time): 0 (Mark Minichiello holds the Titans’ appearances record with 173).

The departure of David Mead, Greg Bird, Nathan Friend, Luke Douglas and Josh Hoffman sees the Titans in the remarkable position of having two players (Paasi and Pettybourne) with just two seasons at the club among their top five longest-serving players.

That’s not to say players don’t show loyalty to the Titans – Mark Minichiello, Luke Bailey, Matthew White, Kevin Gordon and Ashley Harrison all departed in recent years after bringing up a century of appearances – but of the 14 players to reach 100 games during the club’s 10-season existence, only Mead and Gordon made their NRL debuts there.

The appearances record in the troubled 11-season tenure (1988-98) of the defunct Gold Coast Giants/Seagulls/Chargers is held by Jamie Goddard with just 86 games.

 

MANLY SEA EAGLES

Longest-serving players for 2017: Brett Stewart (235)*, Steve Matai (231)*, Daly Cherry-Evans (147), Jorge Taufua (100), Brenton Lawrence (61)

Players with 100+ games in 2016: 6

Players with 200+ games (all time): 19 – Cliff Lyons (309), Steve Menzies (280), Anthony Watmough (278), Alan Thompson (263), Des Hasler (255), Fred Jones (241), Geoff Toovey (238), Graham Eadie (237), Brett Stewart (235), Steve Matai (231), Jamie Lyon (226), Brent Kite (221), Matt Ballin (219), Jason King (219), Max Krilich (215), Bob Fulton (213), Owen Cunningham (209), Terry Randall (208), Paul Vautin (204)

*Unconfirmed for 2017

If Brett Stewart and Steve Matai don’t turn out for Manly in 2017, it will cap an extraordinary turnover of veterans in recent years. Producing by far the most 200-gamers of any club, five members of that group – Kite, King, Watmough, Ballin and Lyon – have departed in the past three years, with former co-captains Lyon and King the only ones to retire.

Stalwart Jamie Buhrer (128 games) joined Lyon in the departures column at the end of 2016, which leaves the Sea Eagles in a worrying position for a club that has built its success on a combination of astute recruitment and stability – neither of which appears to be happening right now.

 

MELBOURNE STORM

Longest-serving players for 2017: Cameron Smith (335), Cooper Cronk (301), Billy Slater (278), Jesse Bromwich (159), Will Chambers (149)

Players with 100+ games in 2016: 7

Players with 200+ games (all time): 5 – Cameron Smith (335), Cooper Cronk (301), Billy Slater (278), Matt Geyer (262), Ryan Hoffman (245)                                             

Melbourne’s success and the influence of Craig Bellamy and the ‘Big Three’ make teammates reticent to leave, whether they’ve been blooded by ‘Bellyache’ or have come via other clubs and revived their careers in the southern capital. With Kevin Proctor (179 games) exiting, there’s a decent gap between the top five longest-serving players and the rest, with Tohu Harris (103) the only other current Storm centurion and four-season players Kenny Bromwich, Jordan McLean and Tim Glasby the next longest-serving.

If Billy Slater can overcome his dodgy shoulder and get at least one more full season out his battered body, Melbourne will become the first club to have three players make over 300 appearances.

 

NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS

Longest-serving players for 2017: Jarrod Mullen (211), Dane Gagai (105), Kobin Sims (76), Sione Mata’utia (45), Tyler Randell (39)

Players with 100+ games in 2016: 3

Players with 200+ games (all time): 8 – Danny Buderus (257), Kurt Gidley (251), Andrew Johns (249), Tony Butterfield (229), Robbie O’Davis (223), Matthew Gidley (221), Steve Simpson (216), Jarrod Mullen (211)

Unsurprisingly, given their historically bad season, the Knights are light on long-serving clubmen – or experienced players from other clubs, for that matter. The departure of Aku Uate (161 games), Kade Snowden (92), Jeremy Smith (75) and Robbie Rochow (72) has only exacerbated the lack of loyal Novocastrians, with Tyler Randell – who debuted in the penultimate round of 2014 – in the top five for 2017.

Newcastle’s history is steeped in loyalty, however, with seven of their eight 200-gamers playing their entire NRL careers with the club. They have another five members of the 150-game club who fall into the same category.

 

NORTH QUEENSLAND COWBOYS

Longest-serving players for 2017: Johnathan Thurston (263), Matthew Scott (231), Scott Bolton (178), Gavin Cooper (160), Antonio Winterstein (132)

Players with 100+ games in 2016: 10

Players with 200+ games (all time): Matt Bowen (270), Johnathan Thurston (263), Matthew Scott (231), Aaron Payne (219), Paul Bowman (203)

Boasting the most club centurions in the competition in 2016, the Cowboys rival the Broncos in the loyalty stakes. Even without James Tamou (170 games) and Rory Kostjasyn (94) next year, the Cowboys will still have nine players with over 100 games for the Townsville club running around in 2017.

Thurston is the only 200-game Cowboy to have played with a rival NRL club, while three of their six 150-game stalwarts spent their entire career with North Queensland (excluding Penrith-bound Tamou).

 

PARRAMATTA EELS

Longest-serving players for 2017: Tim Mannah (180), Peni Terepo (74), Jeff Robson (70), Semi Radradra (68), Corey Norman (62)

Players with 100+ games in 2016: 1

Players with 200+ games (all time): 11 – Nathan Hindmarsh (330), Brett Kenny (265), Luke Burt (264), Ray Price (259), Peter Sterling (227), Mick Cronin (216), Bob O’Reilly (216), Mark Laurie (205), Daniel Wagon (204), Fuifui Moimoi (201)

Another club with a dearth of long-serving clubmen, the rebuilding Eels are unlikely to have a second centurion to join captain Tim Mannah by the end of 2017. Mannah and Jarryd Hayne (176 games) are the only players to debut from 2006-onwards who have made 150 appearances for Parramatta.

Coach Brian Smith (1997-2006) blooded four of the club’s 200-gamers – of whom only ex-Dragon Wagon played for another NRL club – while the other seven were part of the Eels’ 1980s golden era, with only ‘Bear’ O’Reilly (Penrith and Easts) turning out for a rival team.

 

PENRITH PANTHERS

Longest-serving players for 2017: Sam McKendry (145), Josh Mansour (87), Peter Wallace (73), Matt Moylan (71), Dean Whare (64)

Players with 100+ games in 2016: 1

Players with 200+ games (all time): 8 – Steve Carter (242), Craig Gower (238), Royce Simmons (237), Greg Alexander (228), Tony Puleuta (211), Brad Izzard (209), Luke Lewis (208), Ryan Girdler (204)

While the Panthers don’t boast many long-serving clubmen in their squad, expect several of the current crop to get to 100 appearances and beyond. A whopping 10 of the club’s best and brightest have recently re-signed until at least the end of 2019, including a stack of local juniors.

Penrith has an impressive history of blooding players in first grade who go on to have long tenures, with seven of the eight 200-gamers (and 13 of their 16 players with 150 appearances) making their first-grade debuts with the club. Lewis and Waterhouse are the only 150-gamers to have turned out for Penrith after 2008, however.

 

ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA DRAGONS

Longest-serving players for 2017: Jason Nightingale (221), Jack de Belin (106), Leeson Ah Mau (95), Tyson Frizell (79), Gareth Widdop (72)

Players with 100+ games in 2016: 4

Players with 200+ games (all time): 5 – Ben Hornby (273), Ben Creagh (270), Matt Cooper (243), Jason Nightingale (221), Dean Young (209)

With Ben Creagh retiring, Jason Nightingale is the last remaining bastion of the Dragons’ 2010 premiership side that was chock-full of stalwarts. That squad boasted eight players who had played – or went on to play – 150+ games for St George Illawarra, but Jack de Belin (2011) and Leeson Ah Mau (2012) are the only current players besides Nightingale to make their club debut before 2013.

Between 1921 and 1998, St George had 13 players make 180+ first-grade appearances in the Red V, and the St George Illawarra joint venture has continued that tradition by producing five 200-gamers in just 18 seasons. Hornby and Creagh both surpassed Norm Provan’s long-standing Dragons mark (and one-time premiership record) of 256 appearances.

 

SOUTH SYDNEY RABBITOHS

Longest-serving players for 2017: John Sutton (262), Dave Tyrell (151), Jason Clark (137), Greg Inglis (126), Sam Burgess (121)

Players with 100+ games in 2016: 6

Players with 200+ games (all time): 5 – John Sutton (262), Nathan Merritt (218), Bob McCarthy (211), Craig Coleman (208), Eric Simms (205)

Souths have built up one of the more impressive cores of clubmen over the past six seasons, despite the semi-recent departure of Nathan Merritt and Issac Luke. Greg Inglis is the only one of the Rabbitohs’ six current centurions who started their NRL career elsewhere.

It’s one of the curiosities of the history of South Sydney – the most successful and famous club ever – that only three players made it 200 games during their first century and a bit in existence. Since the Rabbitohs’ readmission to the NRL in 2002, however, four players (Sutton, Merritt, Issac Luke and Luke Stuart) have made 190 or more appearances in the myrtle and cardinal, with Sutton and Merritt passing Bob McCarthy’s comparatively modest club record.

 

SYDNEY ROOSTERS 

Longest-serving players for 2017: Shaun Kenny-Dowall (215), Mitchell Pearce (215), Mitch Aubusson (214), Jake Friend (189), Jared Waerea-Hargreaves (143)

Players with 100+ games in 2016: 7

Players with 200+ games (all time): 6 – Anthony Minichiello (302), Luke Ricketson (301), Kevin Hastings (228), Craig Fizgibbon (228), Brad Fittler (217), Shaun Kenny-Dowall (215), Mitchell Pearce (215), Mitch Aubusson (214)

The Roosters are up there with the Broncos and Cowboys with the biggest group of long-serving clubmen – impressive for a team based in the crowded Sydney market, where moving between teams is more common. Of the seven current centurions, only Waerea-Haregreaves didn’t make his NRL debut in the Tricolours, while Pearce, Aubusson and Kenny-Dowall all celebrated their 10th season in first grade with the Roosters in 2016.

For a club with a reputation as big spenders and a transit lounge over the years, the Roosters have produced a healthy number of loyal servants. Of the 14 players to have played 174 games or more for the club, nine played exclusively for the Roosters and 11 made their first-grade debut from the Bondi-based outfit.

 

WARRIORS

Longest-serving players for 2017: Simon Mannering (258), Manu Vatuvei (225), Ben Matulino (196), Jacob Lillyman (167), Shaun Johnson (125)

Players with 100+ games in 2016: 5

Players with 200+ games (all time): 3 – Stacey Jones (261), Simon Mannering (258), Manu Vatuvei (225)

Being the only club based outside Australia, the Warriors have an obvious advantage in hanging onto their players – which is certainly true of the current squad. Their five centurions are all survivors of the 2011 grand final. There’s now a big gap back to the next group of clubmen following the departure of Thomas Leuluai and Konrad Hurrell, however, with Tui Lolohea, Solomone Kata, Ryan Hoffman and Sam Lisone yet to play 50 games for the enigmatic side.

While their tally of three 200-gamers isn’t particularly impressive, 16 of their 23 100-game veterans never played for a rival NRL club, while 20 made their first-grade debuts while in Auckland.

 

WESTS TIGERS

Longest-serving players for 2017: Chris Lawrence (194), Aaron Woods (124), Ava Seumanufagai (87), Tim Simona (79), Sauaso Sue (79)

Players with 100+ games in 2016: 4

Players with 200+ games (all time): 3 – Robbie Farah (247), Benji Marshall (201), Chris Heighington (201)

The departure of Robbie Farah and Dene Halatau leave the Tigers a bit bare in the clubmen department, though they have seven players in the 50-100 game bracket. Few clubs have blooded more of their current first-grade squad themselves, with only nine of the Tigers’ 30 players used in 2016 making their NRL debuts elsewhere.

With Robbie Farah joining Souths, that leaves only Chris Lawrence and Liam Fulton of Wests Tigers’ 11 150-game stalwarts to have played exclusively with the joint venture in the NRL, though it should be noted John Skandalis and Ben Galea started out with Western Suburbs and Balmain respectively.

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About the author

Will Evans

CBS’s Editor-in-Chief and lead rugby league, union and cricket writer, Will is a Christchurch-based freelancer, also writing for Big League and Rugby League Review magazines, and The New Daily website. Will has written four rugby league books.

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