Triple century for veteran Morris
There comes a time in a man's life when he realises he's travelled down the right path. If he hasn't done so already, veteran Sharks hooker John Morris will come to that realisation when he runs on to Remondis Stadium for his 300th first-grade game this Monday night against the South Sydney Rabbitohs.
Debuting in 2001 as a fresh-faced 20-year-old for the Newcastle Knights, Morris' 14th season in the big time will see him become only the 19th man in the history of top-flight rugby league in Australia to achieve a triple century of games played.
The versatile 33-year-old has divided his career between four clubs: the Knights (31 games), Parramatta Eels (92), Wests Tigers (72) and now the Sharks (104). He has played in several positions across the park, from the halves to the outside backs and his preferred hooker gig, and Morris says he is very privileged to have another feather in his already impressive cap.
"I'm very honoured to achieve [300 games], especially with the players that are in that elite club. It blows my mind to think that you're going to join them," Morris told NRL.com.
"You don't really play the game to get those sort of milestones but I'm lucky enough to be given an opportunity at a couple of clubs and managed to look after myself and keep in pretty good nick and play consistently enough to keep myself in first-grade teams.
"I've been at a few clubs to get to the 300 games. Some people see that as a negative but it's been a positive for me to play in many different cultures and it was a special achievement for me a few weeks ago to play 100 games for the Shark,s because I haven't achieved that at any of the other clubs."
In what has been a whirlwind career for the Scone Thoroughbreds junior, Morris wouldn't be where he is today if it wasn't for former player scout and current Knights general manager Warren Smiles.
"[The Knights] had their eyes on a few local talents up around the Group 21 area and I was fortunate enough that they came up to have a look at me play Muswellbrook," Morris said.
"Smiles, who recruited some fantastic players at the Knights, brought me down and I had a trial as most young kids do and was given a two-year contract and moved down to finish off my schooling at St. Francis Xavier in Hamilton, and that was where it all started. I debuted in 2001 and away I went.
"I saw the Knights a couple of years before that win the 1997 grand final with the Johns brothers and another Scone product in Darren Albert, and to go on and make your debut with the club was a dream come true and to develop with those players really put me in good stead to have a long and successful career."
With a career spanning as long as it has, Morris is hard-pressed to pick one outstanding highlight of his career. Yet he can't speak more highly of his two Country Origin berths in 2002 and 2003.
"When I look back at one of those old Country Origin photos and the players I played with, it was unbelievable. It was a good achievement and it gave me a sniff of what footy was all about at a good age and that instilled some values in me back then that I still have today and it's been the backbone of my career," Morris said.
"I obviously started my career with a bang being a part of the Country Origin teams but I went on to Parramatta and won a minor premiership with them in 05' and we definitely had a team to win it that year.
"It's definitely been a great journey and I think I've played with five or six Dally M winning players and some really special players and formed some great friendships and played under some great coaches along the way. I consider myself extremely lucky."
The now off-contract Shark has a decision to make, wherever to persist with his career for a couple more seasons or retire while he's still playing solidly in first-grade.
"I'm feeling pretty good. I'm not going to make any calls on it. We'll see what happens. I'll be keen to keep playing if the opportunity is there but I'm not getting any younger so you start weighing up all the other options and that's why I'm not going to rush into it," Morris said.
Whether he retires this year or not remains to be seen but Morris hopes to be perceived in a certain light when the time finally comes to hang up his boots.
"I've always been a pretty honest player and someone that puts in and if I can be remembered as that I'll be pretty happy," he said.