Sunday, 29 April 2018

NRL 300 Club Rankings, Part Two

Introducing the Top Ten best players to have played 300 NRL matches.

The other 21 are covered HERE, from John Morris in 31st through to Cooper Cronk in 11th.

I actually searched for a pic of John Morris and Cooper Cronk together. It was a long shot, and nothing came up - but Google did find this meme...

Two comments on this:
  1. I can't believe there's some Tigers/NRL fan that actually made this; and
  2. To answer the question... yeah, nah.
The match totals for the Top Ten are correct the end of Round 8, 2018.

Pictured: Ettinghausen and Gallen
10. Andrew Ettinghausen (328 matches for Cronulla)
9. Paul Gallen (310 matches for Cronulla; still playing)

Starting the top ten with a SHARK ATTACK~!

I like to think of these players as representing different generations of the Shire.

Ettinghausen is the Puberty Blues beach bum, except instead of chilling at the beach and shacking up with girls in his panel van, he's escaping to fish and shacking up with other players wives in a suburban home.

Gallen is the slightly menacing edge to the Shire, except instead of race riots, he's (allegedly) employing squirrel grips.

Really good players, though. Between them they have played 54 Origin matches for New South Wales and 61 Test matches for Australia.

8. Steve Menzies (349 matches for Manly, Northern Eagles and Manly again)

Probably the greatest compliment you can pay Steve "Beaver" Menzies is that as an adult called "Beaver", he is still widely respected.

The second greatest compliment is that he played his entire career for Manly, yet very few people hate him.

A brilliant hole runner, usually outside Cliffy Lyons (see Part One), Menzies also developed into a superb 1-on-1 defender and an inspirational leader. His NRL career ended with a fairytale 40-0 Grand Final victory in 2008... and then he played another five seasons in England! Add representative games and it's hard to imagine anyone else in the modern era has played as many professional matches.

7. Anthony Minichiello (302 matches for Sydney)

I think "Mini" is severely underrated. Seriously, look at this:
  • 2003 - moved from wing to fullback at the start of the year and selected as NSW #1 by mid-season. After breaking the record for run metres in a season, is named winger for Australia.
  • 2004 - rose to player of the tournament in the Tri-Nations as fullback, and named Dally M fullback of the year in the NRL after breaking his own record for run metres set the previous year. The record lasted until 2015.
  • 2005 - declared best player in the Tri Nations (again), as well as man of the series in State of Origin, culminating in being awarded the Golden Boot as the best rugby league player in the world.
It's simply ridiculous. I don't think there's been a player in modern times with a better three-year window.

Then just when it seemed destined for Minichiello to dominate for years, he suffered a chronic back injury. It destroyed his next three seasons, before an ankle injury ruined a fourth.

Mini finally returned to full fitness in 2010, but never played for Australia again. However, he did return for New South Wales and captain his beloved Roosters to a premiership in 2013.

Originally a Liverpool boy, Mini really embraced the Roosters and the surrounding eastern suburbs. He is now so eastern suburbs that his reputation for throwing absurd birthday parties for his child has surpassed his standing as a great footy player.

6. Petero Civoniceva (309 matches for Brisbane, Penrith and Brisbane again)

The big prop was heart of the engine room for Brisbane, Queensland and Australia for a very long time, and ended his career playing back at his junior club Redcliffe in the local Brisbane competition, and representing his country of birth Fiji in the World Cup. It was a great end to a great career.

5. Billy Slater (306 matches for Melbourne; still playing)

Slater is one of three active players widely considered a "future Immortal". The other two are [SPOILER] the top two in these rankings [/SPOILER]. They are players I would consider revolutionised the game, and have been the clear benchmark at their position for a decade or longer.

Hot Take Alert: I don't think Slater is quite at that level.

With the top two, I'm not picking anyone ahead of them at any stage in the last 12-ish years. But when it comes to "Billy the Kid"...

Minichiello did everything Slater does while Slater was still breaking into rep footy. Karmichael Hunt kept him out of his preferred fullback slot for state and country. Slater has never had a purple patch like Jarryd Hayne in 2009, nor has he been as instrumental to his club team as Darius Boyd in 2010 or 2015-16. I'd take peak Greg Inglis - around 2013 - over Slater at the back. I'd be tempted to take Roger Tuivasa-Sheck right now.
Slater - great footy player AND
kung fu master.

There probably hasn't ever been a fullback at, or near, the top for as long as Slater. It's remarkable to be a top tier fullback for close to fifteen years. He is an all-time great. But I'd still have him some distance down the queue for Immortality.

4. Darren Lockyer (355 matches for Brisbane)
3. Brad Fittler (336 matches for Penrith and Sydney)

I found it hard to split these two players.

Fittler was a teenager with a ridiculous sidestep who developed into a complete footy player - he had great playmaking vision at one end of the spectrum, and was tough as nails at the other. He could do it all, and led a great club team that made four Grand Finals in five years, as well as his state and country.

Lockyer was his natural successor as the face of the game. After establishing himself as the best fullback, he switched positions and became the best five-eighth. He started Queensland on its never-ending reign of Origin dominance, and seemed to score a late match winning try for Australia to break English or Kiwi hearts at the end of every season.

In the end I ranked Fittler higher because his punditry on Channel 9 isn't a total embarrassment.

2. Johnathon Thurston (307 matches for Canterbury and North Queensland; still playing)

Thurston almost transcends the game of rugby league. He is just very likeable. I don't think I've met a fan who dislikes JT. All are charmed by his brilliance on the field and his easygoing, carefree nature off it.

And while he's brilliant - he can do, and see, things with ball in hand that other footy players can only dream about - that's only part of it. He just never gives up, and as a result, he always seems to pop up to clear the dangerous kick or make the cover tackle, in places on the field where he just shouldn't be. Yet in this competitiveness, there is seemingly no grubbiness or pushing the boundaries.

He's obviously a legend to Queenslanders, as one of the chief architects of their State of Origin dominance and the leader of the Cowboys to their maiden premiership, but he's the only one of the Maroons false idols who has the same lofty reputation south of the border too.

I wanted to put him in first place, but...

1. Cameron Smith (366 matches for Melbourne; still playing)
If you had never watched rugby league before, and saw Smith playing, you might think he's not doing much. But he does more than just about any other player, and generally does it better.
He's also the best referee in the NRL.
And his game is so complete, and his style so efficient, and his body so durable, he's going to be the first player to go past 400 NRL matches. That should be sometime late in the 2019 season. And although it won't happen (?), he looks like he could play another four or five years after that and get to 500 matches if he really wanted.

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