Who is the Illawarra’s most successful NRL-era player?
Dragons premiership captain Ben Hornby? 273 games, plus three for NSW, one for Australia and the man to lift the trophy in 2010.
Matt Cooper? Ben Creagh? Brett Morris? Craig Fitzgibbon? Luke Patten?
They all have convincing arguments and remarkable careers.
Especially when you factor in Hornby, Morris and Cooper playing a part in winning State of Origin campaigns for NSW. Of course, Illawarra and South Coast rugby league history is littered with champions, including Graham Langlands, Bob Fulton and Mick Cronin, to name but a few. But the NRL era is a different beast again, with salary caps and plays considered a commodity and a bargaining chip, as much as they are a person.
If premierships are the ultimate measure Thirroul’s Matt Prior stands above the rest, since the NRL was introduced in 1999. Until Sunday at least.
Prior came off the bench for St George Illawarra when they beat the Roosters in 2010, then a starting prop for Cronulla’s drought-breaking effort last year.
The quietly spoken Prior has now moved past 200 NRL game, after making his debut in 2008 when he looked more likely to be a centre than anywhere in the forward pack.
On Sunday night at ANZ Stadium, Cowboys centre Kane Linnett, the Windang Pelicans junior, can join Prior by winning a second title.
Linnett was an athletically-talented wiry kid, who is now a powerful ball-runner with the experience of playing in three NRL grand finals.
The first was in Roosters colours on the night the Dragons found the promised land. A cast-off of the Wayne Bennett regime, Linnett’s long road to Townsville has reaped rewards.
"I would have loved to have stayed at the Dragons, who were my local team, but I went up there [to the Roosters] for an opportunity and worked my arse off and had an opportunity in my first year to play in a grand final,” he told Fairfax after beating the Roosters on Saturday.
A Scottish international, because of his grandfather’s heritage, it’s almost 2500 kilometres from Windang to Townsville, but it has earned Linnett a shot at becoming an all-time Illawarra great.