'Corey Parker is a freak of nature'
Fourteen years and 321 games since making his NRL debut, Corey Parker is one of the premier forwards in the game and no one is more astonished than his first captain at the Brisbane Broncos.
Friday night's Preliminary Final against the Roosters will be Parker's 322nd game in the toughest rugby league competition on the planet, a figure that ranks him eighth on the all-time list of premiership games in Australia.
In that time he has scored 1,218 points to become the greatest point-scorer in Broncos history and can move past David Furner with a solitary point against the Roosters to become the third-most prolific point-scoring forward in the game's history.
At an age when a number of the modern greats are closing the curtain on their NRL careers, Parker is winning awards as the premier player in State of Origin as well as the RLPA's representative player of the year.
As he proudly clutched the Wally Lewis Medal after Origin III Parker seemed taken aback that he was held in such regard and yet 14 years earlier Wendell Sailor wasn't convinced the 18-year-old making his debut in 2001 would amount to much more than a decent first-grader.
Sailor skippered the Broncos in Parker's maiden NRL game against the Warriors in Round 6, 2001, and admitted that he wasn't quite sure what to make of the teenager with the shaved head who was happy to butt heads with some of the toughest Broncos ever to play for the club.
"I watched a lot of those blokes come through – 'Tatey', Lote Tuqiri, 'Hodgo' – and when I saw this kid with a bald head I was thinking, Does this kid think he's tough or is he actually tough?" Sailor told NRL.com.
"If you'd told me that Corey Parker would now be one of the best forwards in the game, I would have laughed at you. I thought he'd play a bit of first grade, maybe get to Queensland but I am such a fan of what he's done the last couple of years.
"Corey Parker for me has certainly earned my respect, more for the last couple of years and how he's carried himself on and off the field.
"The other week against the Cowboys when he had that hamstring injury, if he doesn't play I don't reckon the Broncos win. He's as important to that team as [Anthony] Milford, Darius Boyd and Ben Hunt.
"He's a freak of nature. Everyone knows that he is going to put the 'bumper bars' up, everyone knows what he's going to do but the good players can keep doing it."
Now 33 years old, Parker has not only matured into a darling of NRL Fantasy coaches (he was picked in 39 per cent of the 118,568 Fantasy teams in 2015) with his mountain of metres, ton of tackles and over-supply of offloads, but also a polished media performer not afraid to express an honest opinion.
He is a rarity in the modern game in that he manages his own contract affairs and Sailor admitted that his up-front approach did cause some friction as he tried to prove his worth by taking on the likes of Shane Webcke, Andrew Gee, Petero Civoniceva and Gorden Tallis in his early days in the Broncos' top squad.
"He was always really competitive at training if we were wrestling, even if it was Andrew Gee or Shane Webcke he would never take a backward step and for a young guy, that speaks volumes," Sailor said. "Some people thought he was a bit cocky but you've got to have that.
"He rubbed Gordie up the wrong way a few times because he had such a high opinion of himself and he didn't take a backward step but when [Tallis] has been interviewed he's said the same things.
"He'll go down as one of the greats of the Broncos and he'll be in that Hall of Fame, there's no doubt and he's earned the right to do that."
Parker highly coveted the Brisbane co-captaincy he shared with Justin Hodges last season and has spent the past few years not only defying Father Time to elevate his own game but also those of the young forwards who will one day take his place.
"You can ask him any question and he'll help you out and he's been a big part of my building up this year," said 24-year-old Brisbane prop Jarrod Wallace.
"If he thinks I need to work on anything he'll help me with it no matter what, no matter how tired or how sore he is.
"He's at every training session after Origin and he's a real inspiration to watch and a great leader for our club."
"The last three or so years he's played the best football of his whole career and he just seems to keep getting better," added Broncos half Ben Hunt.
"He doesn't want to wind down, he trains hard, he's here first every morning and he's one of the last to go.
"He's one of those players who do whatever it takes to be fit and ready to go to play his best every week."