This past weekend Cameron Smith plays his 356th NRL game and in doing so broke the record for most NRL Games played. To recognise this momentous achievement The Sportress has declared the week ‘Cameron Smith Week’: a week-long celebration of the Melbourne Storm champ and his record we believe will last forever.
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Today we continue our ‘Cameron Smith Week’ celebrations by taking a look at the five men who held the NRL Games Record immediately before him.
Darren Lockyer, the man whose record Smith surpassed, was a player who had a career unlike any other. In a highly decorated career, Lockyer is one of only three men to be awarded the Golden Boot, as the World’s Best Player, more than once. Making the achievement even more remarkable was the fact that he won the award, in 2003 as fullback and 2006 as a five-eighth, in completely different positions.
His first grade debut was as an 18-year-old in the 1995 season but it was not until the 1997 season that he made his mark for the Broncos. Making the fullback position his own he was Brisbane’s leading point scorer and made his Queensland debut in the Super League Tri-Series. With NSW winning this series it was the only level at which Lockyer would not experience success with a Premiership Medal and a place in Australia’s Super League Ashes winning team to follow for the young man from Roma.
More Premierships were to follow in 1998, in the reunified NRL Competition, when the Broncos defeated the Roosters in the 2000 decider Lockyer was judged best on ground and awarded the Clive Churchill Medal.
fter making his first grade debut for Brisbane in His playing career ended in 1920 having amassed 261 game a mark that would remain a record for 5 years. His durability as a player was more than replicated as a coach where his career spanned 38 seasons and encompassed 714 games, a record that survived 66 years after he hung up his clipboard. The Grand Final winning coach each season is presented the Jock McHale Medal.
In a career of almost unrivalled success, the 2006 season was a particular standout for Lockyer. By this stage the Captain of club, state and country he went close to delivering an unprecedented number of acceptance speeches.
With Queensland having not tasted success at Origin level since 2001, things were looking grim with the team trailing late in the decider at Etihad Stadium. Inexplicably with five minutes to go, a pass from NSW’s Brett Hodgson went to ground and was swooped upon by Lockyer who scored and took the lead for Queensland, he would not taste Origin series defeat again. After leading the Broncos to an upset 15-8 Grand Final victory over the Storm he would again repeat his Origin heroics at Test level, helping the Kangaroos to claim the Tri-Series Final with the match winning try in extra time.
It was a storied year in a storied career which concluded with Lockyer holding the NRL, State of Origin and Australian Test Match appearance record. An incredible set of footprints for Cameron Smith to follow, just those laid out before Lockyer by the man whose record he broke.
While we prepare for the seemingly inevitable day when Cameron Smith plays his 400th First Grade Game, when Terry Lamb took ownership of the Games Record he was just the second man to pass the 300 game mark. Perhaps one of the greatest support players the game has ever seen, a team man to the very end Lamb would surrender the fairytale end of his career to answer an SOS from the Bulldogs to play again in 1996.
The owner of perhaps the best moustache in 1980’s football and three premiership medals, Lamb was renowned for both his resilience and support play. Both of these attributes were brought to the fore in the 1986 season in which Lamb played an extraordinary 53 games across all competitions.
Having missed the 1985 premiership due to injury, Lamb played 28 competition games for Canterbury including the losing Grand Final to the Eels. The Dally M Five Eighth of the Year his performances were recognised with State of Origin selection and a berth on the end of season Kangaroo Tour to Great Britain and France.
In a superhuman performance the Bulldogs pivot played in all 20 matches on the Tour, a feat that required him to play two games a week from October to December. If this wasn’t impressive enough, Lamb managed to score 19 tries too.
Among a number of other notable achievements Lamb won the Daly M Award in 1983 despite his Western Suburbs team running last in the competition. He also retired in second place for tries scored in the NRL and bookended his career with two tries on debut for Wests against Balmain in 1980, and in his last game for Canterbury against North Queensland in 1996.
The 300 game mark was passed for the first time in 1989 by a tireless, hard running Penrith forward Geoff Gerard. It was a long and winding journey for the hard working Gerard who had begun his career as a centre for his local club Parramatta in 1974.
Rookie of the Year in his first season at the club he was a key component of the Eels Grand Final teams in 1976 and 1977. The pain of back to back Grand Final defeats drove Gerard to perhaps his best individual season in 1978. Recognised by Rugby League Week as it’s Player of the Year, Gerard was selected for the end of season Kangaroo Tour on which he played all five Tests against Great Britain and France.
Having been a prominent player in the Eels development into a Rugby League powerhouse, he would not be a part of their coronation, leaving the club for a stint at Manly in 1981. He would be a part of the Sea-Eagles beaten Grand Final teams in 1982 and 1983 as his former club completed their hat-trick of titles.
While a premiership would continue to evade him throughout his career, success would follow him wherever he went. In 1985 in his first season at Penrith he would be a member of the first Panthers team to play in the finals and on their return to September action in 1988 and 1989.
The 1989 Minor Semi Final would prove to be Gerard’s last game in First Grade. It was during this season that he would be recognised as the holder of the Games Record and in Round 18 would celebrate his 300th game against his former team Parramatta.
He was an extraordinary confident player and players wanted to play with Bob. His big attraction was that players wanted to play with him and he had big attractions in this area, they really wanted to play with Bob and he’d get the job done.
Jack Gibson on Bob O’Reilly
If the ‘Super Coach’ Jack Gibson is an admirer you can play and Bob O’Reilly could definitely play.
A Parramatta junior, O’Reilly made his first grade debut for the club as an 18 year in 1967. A talented, hard as nails, ball playing front rower he would become the first Parramatta junior to represent his country.
He would be a regular member of New South Wales and Australian teams throughout the early part of the 1970’s and would play a major role in Australia’s 1970 World Cup victory.
O’Reilly would leave the Eels in 1976 and would spend several season playing for Penrith and Eastern Suburbs before returning to Parramatta in 1980. His experience a much valued addition to a group of young and talented players ready to challenge for the title. The arrival of Jack Gibson as coach in 1981 was the last piece of the puzzle.
O’Reilly was a key part of Gibson’s plans and ‘The Bear’ repaid the Super Coach’s faith in spades. In the 1981 decider, O’Reilly produced a Man of the Match performance as he and his young team mates ended the Eels long premiership wait. It was the perfect exclamation mark on a wonderful 284 game career.
The man whose record O’Reilly broke is one of the games most revered and decorated. A brilliant centre or five-eighth, Bob Fulton, was announced as one of the four initial Immortals of Rugby League.
A player with rare anticipation and acceleration he was a freakish try scorer, 3 times the competitions leading try scorer he also retired as Manly’s leading try scorer. This and his ability to read the game were key building blocks upon which Manly’s first three premiership triumphs were built in 1972-73 and 1976.
A constant in the Australian side throughout his career he was a member of Australia’s World Cup winning sides in 1968, 1970 and 1975. A two time Kangaroo Tourist, Fulton captained the 1978 side that many, including Ray Price, believe to be the best squad to ever tour Great Britain and France.
Fulton would finish his playing career at Eastern Suburbs in 1979, finally succumbing to a knee injury that prevented him from taking part in Australia’s 1977 World Cup campaign. After coaching the club upon his retirement he would make a triumphant return to Manly in which he would claim Premierships in 1987 and 1996 in two different stints as club coach.
These are the names that Cam Smith joined when he ran out on Saturday afternoon and claimed the Games Record, durable, determined, dependable, and champions all. Sometimes the company you keep is the greatest possible compliment, Cameron Smith would have to agree that this is true in this case too.