As Dolphins skipper Jesse Bromwich prepares to power onto WIN Stadium for his 300th NRL game on Saturday, a myriad of statistics and salutes will be rolled out to mark the milestone.
Thirteen years after making his debut as a tearaway 20-year-old in a star-studded Storm side, Bromwich becomes the 46th player and just the sixth Kiwi to join the 300 Club.
The Bromwich CV includes three premierships and three player of the year awards at Melbourne, 28 finals appearances and 34 Tests for the Kiwis.
Having spent his entire career doing the hard yards in the engine room, the 33-year-old has racked up a staggering 277 games as a starting prop, a mark of his resilience and the high esteem with which he was held at the Storm.
Statistics supplied by historian David Middleton, author of the official annual of the NRL, reveal that only one player has started more games in the front row – former Test prop and Eels premiership winner Bob O’Reilly.
The man they call ‘Bear’ debuted as a teenager in 1967 and three years later became the first Parramatta junior to represent Australia, going on to play 16 Tests alongside the likes of Ron Coote, Bob McCarthy and Immortal Arthur Beetson.
Also among his contemporaries was Norths and Manly legend Bill Hamilton, who sits fifth on the list of most starting games at prop with 244, behind O'Reilly, Bromwich, Petero Civoniceva (266) and James Tamou (244).
After playing his first nine seasons at the Eels, O’Reilly had stints at Penrith and Easts before returning to Parramatta in 1980, where a knee injury looked to have ended his career.
A chance meeting with the great Jack Gibson saw him lured back for the 1981 season, where he started in 18 games and helped the Eels to their maiden premiership and was later judged man of the match in the decider.
By the time O’Reilly made his final appearance in Round 19, 1982 he had chalked up 286 games, with 282 of those as a starting prop.
It’s a record 74-year-old O’Reilly will be happy to hand over to Bromwich in a few weeks time, but one he is immensely proud of given the demands of the job.
“The scrums used to take a lot of gas out of us with all the banging and pushing and shoving in there,” O’Reilly recalls.
“We had a hooker and props who had to be in every scrum and our job was to try and help the hooker win the ball.
“I played under the three-yard rule where we were practically shaking hands with each other and then the five-yard rule… I watch these guys today under the 10-metre rule and it makes me tired just looking at them trying to get back there.
“I can’t believe they can do what they are doing now and Jesse is one of the best of them.
“He was right up there as one of the best forwards in the comp during the Storm’s golden era and he is still going strong up there [at the Dolphins].
“Jesse is tough and he does all the little things and they are the type of winners you want. That’s why Wayne Bennett picked out Jesse and his brother. They always find a bit extra and that rubs off on other players.
“Wayne Bennett is a bit like Jack Gibson was back at Parra. They look at the person first and the footballer second.”
In his search for the right man to lead the Dolphins in their inaugural season, Bennett needed to look no further than Bromwich, who is signed with the club until the end of 2024 and shows no signs of slowing down.
Bromwich crashes over
“I like the way he carries himself and his mannerisms. I like someone (as captain) who leads from the front, and there’s no more leading from the front than playing front row,” Bennett said at the time of Bromwich’s appointment.
“Jesse is a very measured person... and that suits my style too.”
That calmness and composure that has been a Bromwich trademark since day one back in 2010, when he came off the bench in the Storm’s 14-10 win over the Sharks at Toyota Stadium.
Sharing the field with Bromwich that night were no fewer than five men who would go on to play 300 games in Billy Slater, Cameron Smith, Aiden Tolman, Adam Blair and Ryan Hoffman, while Kevin Proctor (283), Brett Finch (270) and Greg Inglis (263) also enjoyed long careers.
Longevity ran in the Storm family and the influence of those men on Bromwich’s career can never be understated.
All will watch on proudly on Saturday as Bromwich notches his special milestone, along with a quintet of New Zealand’s finest in Benji Marshall, Adam Blair, Ruben Wiki, James Tamou and Simon Mannering, the only Kiwis to have played 300 NRL games.
The mercurial Marshall sits atop that list with 346, a mark the understated Bromwich will be getting mighty close to by the end of 2024 and will most certainly surpass if he plays on into a 16th season in 2025.
Bromwich grateful for special debut
For now, there’s a job to be done against the Dragons, a game he enters averaging 126 metres, 26 tackles and countless inspirational acts per game in 2023.
And there’s game number 278 to tick off as a starting prop, a hell of an achievement considering he played the first 12 games of his career off the bench.
Watching on with a nod of approval will be ‘The Bear’, paying his respects to a fellow engine room technician, a man who has gone about his business quietly for 14 years and now gets a moment in the spotlight in the Wollongong twilight.
Match: Dragons v Dolphins
Round 5 -
Venue: WIN Stadium, Wollongong