Peter Sterling: When experience matters

It helps to have a hooker who has a real sense of timing and for Dragons rake Luke Priddis, this week the planets are in alignment.<br><br>Today he celebrates his 33rd birthday.<br><br>On Friday he will become just the 14th man in the history of our game to play 300 first grade games.<br><br>To save some time, I’ll list just the surnames of the exalted company he joins. Fortunately for players of this ilk, surnames are sufficient.<br><br>The honour roll is Lamb, Menzies, Fittler, Lyons, Ettingshausen, Gerard, Croker, El Masri, Langmack, Lockyer, Wiki, Ricketson and Steve Price.<br><br>Adding even more merit to this achievement is that he is the only hooker in the group.<br><br>It also comes at a time when the value of his presence is particularly profound at St George Illawarra.<br><br>At the beginning of the season, he would have been viewed as a bit-part player in a similar fashion to his role last year. In 2009, he was involved in just ten matches, with nine of those coming off the interchange bench.<br><br>That all changed after just 10 minutes of the new season, with the broken ankle suffered by first string rake Nathan Fien.<br><br>There would have been some temptation to move the versatile Dean Young into the No. 9 jersey - after all it’s a position that he has filled well enough in the past. Coach Wayne Bennett resisted that option, and it has already proven to be an astute decision.<br><br>For starters, Young has always been much more valuable operating on the fringe of the ruck with his running and passing game. Secondly, it must be comforting for the coach to know exactly what he is (and isn’t) getting.<br><br>Priddis is not the incisive darter from dummy-half like an Issac Luke or a James Aubusson. He’s not a team tactician like Cameron Smith or Robbie Farah.<br><br>What he does provide is excellent decision-making and great service. In fact, I rate his pass delivery on the advantage line as the best in the league. These have always been his real strengths and have only been enhanced by experience.<br><br>They were again on show in Wollongong last Friday night in the Dragons' comfortable win over Brisbane.<br><br>Luke set up two of their six tries by recognising Bronco markers that were either poorly positioned or non-existent.<br><br>In the 51st minute, he set off down the short side against a retreating defence to give Jason Nightingale a saloon passage to the line.<br><br><b><a href="http://www.nrl.com/gameAnalyser/tabId/10910/default.aspx?seasonID=240?seasonid=240&amp;roundid=841&amp;fixtureid=50020100501&amp;videoquality=1&amp;type=linebreak&amp;period=2&amp;time=719" target="_blank">Click HERE to see this blind side play unfold.</a></b><br><br>Sixteen minutes later, it was a fake to the right to come back left against just one marker to put Dean Young under the posts from close range.<br><br><b><a href="http://www.nrl.com/gameAnalyser/tabId/10910/default.aspx?seasonID=240?seasonid=240&amp;roundid=841&amp;fixtureid=50020100501&amp;videoquality=1&amp;type=linebreak&amp;period=2&amp;time=1701" target="_blank">Click HERE to see his deft pass at the line.</a></b><br><br>It’s the same type of football that saw him honoured with the Clive Churchill medal way back in 2003, following Penrith’s victory over the Roosters in that year’s grand final.<br><br>Many people remember that decider for Scott Sattler’s try-saving tackle on Todd Byrne. The big play I will always recall was the one that put Luke Rooney over to ensure a Panthers victory.<br><br>Leading by just six points with seven minutes to go, Priddis fooled everyone with a brazen manoeuvre. On the 6th tackle he ignored Craig Gower - who appeared certain to attempt a field-goal - and ran the blind to throw a cut-out pass to his completely unmarked winger.<br><br>It was a magic play, so unexpected, yet so simple, at a crucial time on one of our game’s biggest stages.<br><br>That was his second premiership title following success with the Broncos in 2000. Winning a third crown would definitely be the icing on the cake, and put him alongside Glenn Lazarus as the only player to win premierships with three different clubs.<br><br>On the subject of victory laps, I don’t think too many people would begrudge Nathan Hindmarsh a circuit before he hangs up his boots.<br><br>The Eels warhorse also reaches a superb milestone this weekend by becoming the man to have played the most ever games in the top grade for the blue and golds. In taking the field for the 266th time, he surpasses the great Brett Kenny and leaves Ray Price and current teammate Nathan Cayless in his wake.<br><br>I must admit, I did think that going into last season that Nathan was on his last legs.<br><br>There is an analogy that likens footballers to cars, in that they both have only so much mileage in them. I felt that on the back of such a huge work-rate borne in recent seasons, that Nathan’s petrol tank was bordering on empty.<br><br>To his credit, he modified his attacking game which gave him a new lease on his footballing life, even forcing his way back into the Australian touring squad.<br><br>I’m sure he threw more off-loads last season than he had in his previous ten.<br><br>As usual, when he takes the field against Souths on Sunday any personal achievement will be the furthest thing from his mind. It will be all about the team, and business as usual, and hopefully getting the Eels' campaign back on track.<br><br>As a football fan, I can only wish all the best for both Nathan and Luke this weekend and hope that when the dust settles they can sit back and realise the significance of what they’ve just achieved.