You can’t win premierships without experience. Plain and simple. No matter how many exciting youngsters you have on your team, they’re helpless without guidance. That’s where these blokes step in. The ten oldest players in the NRL have been there, done that, and they’re going to do it all over again in 2017.
The ten oldest players in the NRL have been there, done that, and they’re going to do it all over again in 2017.
Paul Gallen (Cronulla Sharks) – 35 years, 156 days old
Ol’ captain courageous as Cronulla fans affectionately call him, Paul Gallen finally delivered a maiden premiership to the Shire in 2016. Entering his 17th season of first grade this year, Gallen has finally retired from representative footy, devoting the entirety of the remainder of his career to Cronulla. Whether that ends this year or not, he’ll forever be remembered as the captain of Cronulla’s first ever premiership winning team.
Another member of Cronulla’s maiden premiership winning team, Heighington won his second grand final in 2016 – eleven years after he won his first one. Forced out of the Wests Tigers at the end of the 2012 season, Heighington made the switch to the Shire and never looked back. Transitioning from a starting lock at Concord to a bench prop in Cronulla, his strong charges and uncanny offloading ability makes ‘Heino’ an integral member of Cronulla’s pack.
Jeff Lima (Canberra Raiders) – 34 years, 197 days old
Jeff Lima is somewhat of a journeyman in the NRL. Debuting over a decade ago with Wests Tigers, Lima won premierships with the Melbourne Storm before being forced out by the salary cap drama, joining the Wigan Warriors in the Super League. After returning to the NRL with South Sydney in 2013, Lima moved to the French based Catalan Dragons for two years before linking up with Canberra in 2016. Despite his bone-rattling defence, Lima has a fight on his hand to earn a spot in Ricky Stuart’s top seventeen this year.
Jeff Robson (Parramatta Eels) – 34 years, 165 days old
Another journeyman, Robson backflipped on his decision to retire at the end of 2016 to help the Eels out one more year. Despite backflipping on retirement for his team, Robson has his work cut out for him in 2017, with Corey Norman and Clint Gutherson expected to be Parramatta’s halves ahead of Round 1. With Isaac De Gois set to start at hooker, Robson will battle it out with Kaysa Pritchard for the Eel’s bench utility role.
Jonathan Thurston (North Queensland Cowboys) – 33 years, 268 days old
When you get called a future immortal while you’re still in your playing days, then you’re no ordinary player. A record holder for most Dally M medals (four), most points scored for Queensland (202) and most points for Kangaroos (334). He’s won World Cups, premierships and several Origin series, JT has done it all in the modern game. Signed up to the end of 2018, Thurston is set to wreak havoc on opposition defences for at least the next two years.
Billy The Kid is quite a curious case ahead of 2017. After only managing eight NRL games over the past two seasons, Slater’s ‘fill-in Cameron Munster has done a more than admirable job as the custodian for Melbourne, playing a major part in the Storm advancing to the 2016 NRL Grand Final. On paper, Munster’s move to five-eighth and Slater’s return to fullback can only make Melbourne stronger. But whether Slater can handle a full season of first grade is a major question mark, and his representative career for 2017 is a whole different kettle of fish.
Remarkably born on the same day as Melbourne counterpart Billy Slater, Smith has achieved a lot in his career. Captaining his team to the 2012 premiership is sure to be one highlight while captaining his nation to World Cup and Four Nations victories is another. Signed until 2018, Cameron Smith still has a long road to go in the modern day game, with his lack of injuries only prolonging his career, and putting him in good stead to break Darren Lockyer’s record of most games played, with 355 matches. Already sitting at 335 NRL games, Smith is also at odds of becoming the first player in history to crack 400 games. A legend of the game.
David Shillington has had a long glittering career but has a fight on his hand if he wants it to continue in 2017. After a pec tear threatened to end his season a few matches into 2016, Shillington fought back to play in three NRL games late in the season – only to be dropped a fortnight before the finals. With the likes of young forwards Ryan James, Agnatius Paasi and Leivaha Pulu all dominating the front-row position for the Titans, Shillington’s quest to add to his tally only gets harder with the recruitment of Jarrod Wallace to the Gold Coast. If the former Kangaroo and Maroon’s prop is to add to his first-grade game tally in 2017, then he’ll need to prove to coach Neil Henry that he’s worthy of a spot this season.
Luke Lewis (Cronulla Sharks) – 33 years, 160 days old
When Luke Lewis retires one day, he’ll have one hell of a story to tell. Once a scrawny winger at Penrith, Lewis would win the 2003 NRL premiership. As the years went on, Lewis would begin to mature. Shifting from wing to centre, centre to halfback, halfback to second-row, Lewis has done it all. After revealing that he’d battled cancer in 2012, Lewis also announced that he’d join Cronulla from the 2013 season onwards. A mainstay on the Shark’s right edge, Lewis even earned the Clive Churchill medal in 2016 for best on ground in the Grand Final. Turning down offers from Newcastle and South Sydney, Lewis has signed a one-year contract for 2017 with Cronulla, as he begins to wind down one absolutely glittering career.
As professional as they come, Michael Gordon is set to begin 2017 with his third club in as many years. After spending seven years at the foot of the mountains with Penrith, Gordon decided to move to Cronulla after the emergence of Lachlan Coote and Matt Moylan meant Gordon couldn’t play in his preferred position of fullback. He enjoyed both success and disappointment at Cronulla, playing in the finals two years and winning a wooden spoon in another. Gordon would only spend one season at Parramatta due to their salary cap dramas, meaning that he’ll spend his 2017 at Bondi, mentoring young gun Latrell Mitchell as he looks to become a full-time fullback in 2018 and beyond. Where that leaves Gordon who knows, but we’re willing to bet that wherever he goes, he’ll succeed.