Penrith's Stephen Crichton
The 2023 grand final against Brisbane will mark the 100th NRL game for Penrith's Stephen Crichton. Image by Mark Evans/AAP PHOTOS
  • rugby league

Crichton puts himself among NRL’s greatest ever winners

Scott Bailey September 26, 2023

Stephen Crichton is on the verge of becoming one of rugby league’s greatest winners.

It’s not just in terms of a third premiership at Penrith in just his fourth full season of rugby league, but also because he very rarely loses.

The Panthers on Tuesday named an unchanged team for Sunday’s grand final against Brisbane, which will mark the Canterbury-bound centre’s 100th NRL game.

Since making his debut against Cronulla in late 2019, Crichton has lost only 15 games. He has won 83 and drawn one.

Such is his record that victory on Sunday would give him the equal-second best winning percentage of players to have featured in at least 100 games, alongside St George legend Reg Gasnier on 84.

Only winger Eddie Lumsden, who won nine premierships with the Dragons during their 11-year streak, has a greater winning record at 88.2 per cent.

There’s a tale at Penrith that during Crichton’s rookie year in 2020, he was asked by a coach what it was like to be on such a long winning streak.

“It feels normal,” was said to be the centre’s reply.

Crichton doesn’t remember that conversation and is not certain it actually took place – but it would have been a more than fair response.

In the year before his NRL debut, Crichton won an under-18s SG Ball title with Penrith, then featured in the under-20s Jersey Flegg grand final later that season.

He took his senior bow in 2019 and has gone on to score a try in the 2020, 2021 and 2022 grand finals, winning two of them.

Come Sunday, he can claim a third title just a week after his 23rd birthday.

“Winning’s still probably not natural,” Crichton insisted to AAP.

“Being around a good team and making each other better is probably a way to put it. Not being comfortable with where we’re at. 

“It’s not like, ‘Oh yeah, I’m just used to winning, so when you lose … it’s like heartbreak’. There’s always room for improvement. 

“You’re never going to be too good for another team. 

“It’s going to be the same this week. The Broncos are going to be coming out and they’ve got a very strong pack and fast outside backs.”

Crichton is not alone among Penrith’s serial winners.

Only 18 players in the game’s history have played 100 games or more and won at least 75 per cent of them.

Included in that list are current Panthers Jarome Luai (82 per cent), Liam Martin (80.6 per cent) and Dylan Edwards (78.5 per cent).

All three came through the Penrith pathway and will play their fourth grand final on Sunday night.

“It’s just a credit to Ivan (Cleary, the head coach) and the coaching staff for the culture they’ve built here at the club,” Crichton, who will play on the left edge on Sunday with Izack Tago on the right, said. 

“Building them up when they’re younger so when it gets to the NRL, it’s not too different. 

“We train the same in SG Ball, all the way up to NRL, so the transfer over to NRL is not a big transfer, you’re ready for it.”