It’s a rare occurrence in modern Rugby League for a player to reach 250 games played for a single team. Even rarer is for a player to reach 300 games for a single team. So you can imagine how rare it would be for both of these things to happen in the same game.
It happened recently with Robbie Farah reaching 250 games for the Tigers and John Sutton reaching 300 games for the Rabbitohs in Wests upset over Souths.
Sutton is the first player to ever reach that milestone for the Bunnies and Farah the first to do it for the joint venture Tigers. Both of these players are synonymous with the clubs that they represent, and it gives fans a sense of ‘ownership’ over their careers, having followed the player – by virtue of following the team – for so many years. Regardless of what happens with the remainder of their careers (or what has already happened with Farah) they will both be remembered as One Clubmen. However as mentioned above, this kind of loyalty is increasingly rare – even for top level players.
But it isn’t exclusively a recent phenomenon. Players have been moving between teams for decades. It makes for some interesting arguments and opinions when a player retires as to which team they ‘belong’ to. When you think of the player, which jersey is he wearing? It isn’t always as simple as the team that they played the most games for. What they personally achieved with the teams, how successful they were with the team and how vital they were to a team’s identity are only a few factors that can impact the answer.
For example, Roy Asotasi played over 60% of his NRL games for Souths, but he made his NRL debut in the infamous salary cap Bulldogs of 2002, and established himself as a dominant Front Rower off the bench in the 2004 Premiership winning Canterbury team. At the Bunnies, he was a big name signing, who in hindsight was the beginning of the club turning themselves around from being a perennial loser, but he still never managed to achieve much in the Cardinal and Myrtle. By the time Souths became a real premiership force, Roy was in the twilight of his NRL career. I think he is remembered as a Bulldog.
Another example is Mark Carroll. His NRL career was mostly split fairly evenly between his time at Souths before he moved to Manly only to eventually return for a final year at the Bunnies further down the track. Spud is a big part of Souths to this day, but it was in a Manly jersey that he is remembered for his big clashes with Paul Harragon in the 1990s. He is an Eagle.
So here is where I present you with one that is a bit of a quandary for me. One that I could be convinced either way. One where I have convincing evidence on either side that provides compelling arguments. One where my personal feelings about club and player may be blinding my vision. That case is Matt Sing.
Matt Sing started his career as a young Centre in Penrith, where he had a couple of relatively quiet years, before being selected in the legendary QLD side of 1995 that was decimated by the Super League war but managed to whitewash the star studded NSW team. He wanted to remain loyal to the ARL rather than move to Super League with the Panthers, so he switched allegiances to the Roosters and this is where he really began to make a mark in his career. After 6 consecutive winning seasons at the Roosters, Sing wanted to head home to the north of Queensland and joined a struggling Cowboys team who had finished in the bottom 2 for the previous 3 consecutive seasons. Sing’s arrival helped slowly move the team away from the bottom half of the competition, and in his 5 seasons there, he established himself as a vital part of their operation.
So the question of course is, do you remember Matt Sing as a Rooster or a Cowboy?
At the Roosters, Sing made the finals every season including an appearance in the 2000 Grand Final where they lost to the Broncos. He was a part of establishing the Roosters as a consistently strong club that eventually went on to make 4 Grand Finals in 5 years* – though they did make 3 consecutive Grand Finals immediately after he left. He spent more years playing for the Sydney club and played 50% of his career games for them. During his time at the Roosters he played in 5 straight Origin series’ – with 2 series wins in that time. He won 63% of his games at the Roosters, but in spite of being a representative player, he was surrounded by top level talent in a team that is remembered more for names like Brad Fittler, Adrian Lam, Luke Ricketson, Bryan Fletcher and Craig Fitzgibbon
At the Cowboys, he made the finals only twice, but one of those seasons, the team made it all the way to the Grand Final – the first time North Queensland had ever done so – and as one of the first players to commit to playing in Townsville in the prime of his career, he was a major part of the multi-year path that the Cowboys took to get there. In spite of playing 31 fewer career games for North Queensland, he scored more career tries there than he did for the Roosters. After not being selected for Origin in 2001 and 2002, his representative career had somewhat of a comeback as he was selected to play for Queensland for 3 more seasons after going to Townsville, however the Maroons lost each of those series’ so he was unable to recapture that success. Unlike earlier in his career, this representative renaissance translated all the way up to the Kangaroos team where he play 10 of his 12 career test matches, winning the 2004 Tri Nations series. Sing was also a much more prominent member of the Cowboys generation. Their 2005 season is remembered for Thurston, Bowen and Sing (and a career season for Ty Williams) carving up opposition defences.
Ultimately, I think a case can be made for either side, but the decider for me is that Matt Sing has always been a likeable guy. Nobody in their right mind could possibly describe the Roosters as likeable. But the Cowboys definitely are. Maybe that’s just me, but I think he is remembered as a Cowboy. Just.
Do we have any TRUE Two-Clubmen? I plan to make it my mission to find out. Tell me if you have any suggestions.
*To be fair, they lost 3 of those 4 Grand finals, but still