When one of the South Coast Rugby League’s favourite sons, Albion Park-Oak Flats Eagles front-rower Derek ‘Spud’ Gray, played his 200th first grade games last Saturday, it marked a unique milestone.
The achievement bought up a rare double, 200 junior games and 200 senior games with the same club, something that few players would have achieved.
“I went along when my dad went to register my brother Dean with the Eagles when he was six and they said that even though I was only four I was big enough to play so he registered up both, on the proviso we were both in the same team,” 31-year-old Gray said.
“Starting so young gave me the chance to get 200 junior games, which is great.”
That close bond between the brothers continued when both reached seniors.
“Of my 200 games I reckon about 180 of those have been with Dean, so we have been lucky to play so many games together.”
After playing through the juniors with the Eagles, both he and Dean, better known as ‘Bugsy’, played junior reps with Cronulla-Sutherland before returning home.
“I was in the Under-18 premiership team in 1999, which was a great, but I broke my leg in 2000 after playing four reserve grade and four first grade games – and apart from missing the whole season in 2008 with a knee injury, have had a pretty good run with injuries,” Gray said.
Premierships have been plentiful for Gray, winning five in juniors and four in first grade, with his side’s Clayton Cup for best team in the Country Rugby League in 2007 one of the highlights.
“We went close in 2006 when we lost the last game of the regular season to Gerringong and had a draw with Milton, but I think that just made us more determined to go one better in 2007 - and we did.”
Despite all the games, he has no immediate plans to retire, looking forward to playing with the group of promising youngsters who are will be coming through the ranks over the next few years, but it is something in his personal life that has added a whole new dimension.
“I just love spending as much time as I can with my three month old son Koby and wife Lauren. He is changing all the time and it certainly has given my life a different focus – it’s great,” Gray added.