Melbourne Storm skipper, Cameron Smith already holds the record for most appearances in first grade, and, if he plays another two seasons as planned, his tally will be hard to surpass.
At the end of the 2018 season, Smith had 384 first grade games to his name. Throw in 42 State of Origin matches for Queensland and 56 Tests for Australia, plus World Club Challenge games; trials and his matches with Norths Devils in the Queensland Cup, and his match tally climbs to well over 500.
Australian coach, Mal Meninga is credited with 166 first grade matches for Canberra Raiders during his career. Throw in 32 State Origin matches; 11 other matches for Queensland and 46 Tests, plus his 28 matches for St Helens in England and his tally is 283.
Hang on. Something is missing. That’s right. ‘Big Mal’ played seven seasons of first grade for Souths Magpies in a Brisbane competition which featured players like Wally Lewis, Gene Miles, Steve Walters, Greg Conescu, Mark Murray, Gary Belcher, Martin Bella, Tony Currie, Colin Scott, Bob Lindner, Bryan Niebling, Dan Stains, Chris Close and Allan Langer, to name just a few.
Injuries and suspensions aside, he would have played well over 100 games for the Magpies. Throw in his club and provincial games for the Kangaroos in New Zealand, France, England, Wales and Papua New Guinea (He toured Britain and France four times) and Mal’s tally would surely surpass 500.
(He even played a first grade match or two for Murwillumbah Old Boys in the Group 18/Gold Coast League, in 1978, but that’s another story).
Photo 1: Mal Meninga
Greg Shannon, a member of the Queensland Rugby League’s History Committee has been helping Andrew Ferguson from ‘The Rugby League Project’, to collate BRL/QRL stats for their most worthy project.
It was something also pursued by former Australian Rugby League Commission chair, John Grant, who had a long career with Souths’ Magpies, just before Meninga hit the scene, and also played seven times for Queensland and three times for Australia. He also represented Brisbane, and played for Warrington in England.
His Rugby League Project biog, simply says, ‘appeared three times for Australia and six times for Queensland’. Otherwise, he did nothing.
My favorite player for longevity and endurance is former Great Britain and Widnes hooker, Keith ‘The Mole’ Elwell. Elwell played three Tests for Great Britain; twice for England and nine times for Lancashire. He was ‘Mr Reliable’ for Widnes, at a time when the forward battles were brutal (stiff arms and the like) and scrums fiercely contested. Elwell played 591 matches for Widnes, including a world record 239 in a row. I met him when my wife and I lived for a time in Widnes, in 1977-78. One night he took us to one of his favorite pubs, ‘The Ferry Tavern’ at Penketh on the banks of the Mersey, and afterwards we sat through a number of videos of his matches for Widnes. Videos were a novelty to us. I thoroughly enjoyed the night (and morning), but my wife nodded off.
Photo 2: Keith Elwell in action for Widnes against Hull.