'The General' to notch up 250 games

There were times when even 100 games seemed little more than a distant dream, but Bulldogs fullback Luke Patten will join an exclusive club when he runs onto Suncorp Stadium for his 250th first grade appearance tonight.<br><a href="http://www.nrl.com/telstrapremiership/scores/tabid/10240/roundid/788/fixtureid/5487/infotabid/1/default.aspx"><b><br>Click here for our Bulldogs v Titans preview.</b></a><br><br>Just 12 months after his career hung in the balance due to a debilitating back injury, the veteran custodian told NRL.com that he was enjoying his football again after a difficult 2008 season that had him questioning just how much more he had to offer.<br><br>“It’s something that even last year seemed light years away from me with my back so it’s definitely an achievement,” Patten, nicknamed ‘The General’, said this week.<br><br>“It’s something I’ll look back on when I’m finished and be proud of.<br><br>“I’ve been through some tough times with injury and I don’t do as much training as I used too because I have to manage [my back], but in terms of going through games now it’s fine and I’m really enjoying it.<br><br>“I mean, it’s hard not to after last year with the way we’re going this year.<br>&nbsp;<br>“I’m really enjoying being out there and hopefully that can continue.”<br><br>“Hopefully I can keep going and hit 300 in the future.”<br><br>Such a constant in the Bulldogs side has Patten become over the past nine seasons that it’s hard to imagine the club being without him, yet he very nearly didn’t make it to Belmore at all.<br><br>Patten was just 19 when he played in his maiden grand final for St George Illawarra back in 1999, but when his form dipped the following season (paving the way for Amos Roberts to steal his fullback spot at the Dragons) he came within a whisker of giving the game away.<br><br>“I wasn’t playing well and I started to lose the enjoyment,” Patten said. <br><br>“They were dark times for me and I came very close to giving it away but I’m glad I didn’t. <br><br>“Like I said, the 250 will probably mean more to me after my career but it’s still nice to reach the milestone when you look back at everything that has happened. <br><br>“You see young guys getting a buzz from reaching their 50th or their 100th first grade game and I’m no different – it still excites me.”<br><br>It’s been a big week for Patten, whose name has popped up around representative circles from time to time over the years but was only called into the NSW squad for the first time last week as cover for Blues fullback Kurt Gidley.<br><br>Patten didn’t play in the end but the mere fact that he remains in contention at the age of 29 has provided some extra spark.<br><br>“It’s probably given me a fair bit of confidence knowing that people in those positions think I can play that sort of footy,” he said. <br><br>“It was good to be part of it and good to see the boys grab a win as well.”<br><br>Joining Patten back in the blue and white tonight is halfback Brett Kimmorley – another to be rejuvenated after his impressive return to the NSW outfit on Wednesday night.<br><br>“I enjoyed it more this time around,” Kimmorley said.<br><br>“You don’t know when you’re going to get these opportunities again so you learn to enjoy it while you can.<br><br>“But I’m more comfortable with who I am as a footballer these days.<br><br>“Everything used to be so fast and frantic but I feel like I’m a lot more controlled these days and there isn’t as much pressure from outside either.<br><br>“The Bulldogs have really helped me in that respect – I feel very comfortable with where I am at the club both on and off the field.<br><br>“On the field we’re going great and off the field I’ve got a really good balance.”<br><br><b>Late News:</b><br><br>•&nbsp;&nbsp; &nbsp;Queensland duo Darren Lockyer and Sam Thaiday have both been ruled out of tonight’s clash with Souths because of injury;<br>•&nbsp;&nbsp; &nbsp;Warriors prop Steve Price will be rested this weekend after being knocked out during Wednesday’s Origin clash;<br>•&nbsp;&nbsp; &nbsp;Fellow Origin stars David Shillington, Ashley Harrison, Cameron Smith and Greg Inglis are all in doubt for their respective sides; and<br>•&nbsp;&nbsp; &nbsp;Wests Tigers hooker Robbie Farah is battling a bout of tonsillitis but is confident of taking the field against North Queensland on Sunday.