Before each home game, we salute a former South Sydney great in hope that the football club catches on and starts doing it at home games. Similar to how Canterbury-Bankstown honour past players by having them present the 18th jersey on the field to a member, Parramatta have a past player raise the blue and gold flag and let’s not forget the viking horn down at Canberra.
We salute, Nathan Deane Merritt—South Sydney Rabbitohs legend and three time Indigenous All Star (2010–12). He has also represented NSW Origin (Game 2 2013), City Origin (2011 and 2013) and the Prime Minister’s XIII (2006 and 2011).
Nathan played 237 First Grade games (South Sydney 218 [2002–03, 2006–14], Cronulla-Sutherland 19 [2004–5]), scored 154 tries (South Sydney 146, Cronulla-Sutherland 8), converted 40 goals (South Sydney 34, Cronulla-Sutherland 6) and kicked one memorable field goal for South Sydney. He interchanged between fullback and wing throughout his career.
Nathan grew up in Sydney’s notorious Redfern and Waterloo. He spent countless hours with his cousins hopping the fence at the old Redfern Oval and playing on the hallowed turf. He used to also walk over to the Sydney Football Stadium with his cousins and watch the likes of Phil Blake play for South Sydney.
Rugby league is in his blood as his grandfather is Eric Robinson (South Sydney 1961-64), uncle is Ricky Walford (Eastern Suburbs 1982–83, North Sydney 1984 and St. George 1985–96) and cousins to Reece (Brisbane 2008, Canberra 2010–14, Parramatta 2015, Sydney 2018) and Travis Robinson (Penrith 2012–13).
Nathan played most of his junior rugby league with the Alexandria Rovers and came through the Souths Juniors’ development squads and district representative sides.
The South Sydney junior made such an impression in the Jersey Flegg competition that Craig ‘Tugger’ Coleman, First Grade coach, selected the then 18 year old to play for Souths’ exhibition side against the Murdi Paaki Warriors at Redfern Oval (June 2001). He didn’t look out of place which lead him to being selected in the First Division curtain raiser for the 2002 Charity Shield as he was dubbed by Tugger as being ‘too good for Jersey Flegg’. He was rewarded for his performance in that trial by being selected the following week to travel to Auckland for the NRL trial. Nathan came off the bench and scored a try with blistering pace. His debut was only a matter of time.
Welcome to First Grade, son
Nathan made his NRL debut off the bench in a loss to New Zealand (Round 9 2002). Nathan’s South Sydney first grade player number is 974. He played 22 more games in 2002 and 2003 for South Sydney before signing to Cronulla-Sutherland for two seasons. Things did not work out at Cronulla-Sutherland so he made frequent appearances for Newtown in First Division.
Home sweet home
Nathan returned to South Sydney in 2006 and became the NRL’s leading try scorer (22), not bad for being in a side that ran dead last. He attributed being unwanted by Souths at the end of 2003 as a wake up call for himself and hasn’t looked back since.
Roller coaster year
Nathan Merritt had a 2007 to remember and also forget, depending on which part of the year you look at. He was part of the team that made the finals for the first time since 1989 but tragically missed out on playing in the finals due to a lateral ligament tear in his knee suffered at Leichhardt Oval (Round 24). The day after the injury an emotional Nathan was filmed receiving the bad news that his season was over.
At South Sydney, Nathan holds the record for the most number of tries scored and shares the record of the most number of tries scored in a game (5). He is the second most capped South Sydney First Grade player and holds Newtown’s points scoring record in a game (40 points – 5 tries and 10 goals versus Penrith-St Marys Cougars 2005).
Five of the best
Nathan Merritt scored a record-equaling five tries in South Sydney’s 56–6 drubbing of Parramatta (Round 22 2011). And backed it up six days later with three tries against Canberra. A total of eight tries in six days! Nathan was awarded the 2011 George Piggins Medal for Best and Fairest.
Breaking Benny’s record
Nathan Merritt set a new South Sydney record of 145 tries when he scored against Penrith (Round 6 2014). The previous record, 144 tries, was held by Benny Wearing and stood for 81 years.
The more tires that Nathan Merritt scored, the stronger the calls grew for him to be selected to represent NSW Origin. Year after year Nathan was overlooked After 12 years, 213 NRL games and 148 tries he finally received the call up for Game 2 of the 2013 series when Blake Ferguson was stood down. Merritt’s sole appearance didn’t go to plan and became a scapegoat for a struggling NSW side.
Indigenous All Stars
Nathan Merritt represented the Indigenous All Stars on three occasions. As the teams are selected by online fan voting, he was one of the most popular choices with many feeling for him after being constantly overlooked in City Origin and NSW Origin selections.
Nathan was in his element during the All Stars games. He scored a try in the 2011 contest and in 2012 bagged a double plus won the Preston Campbell Medal but suffered a toe injury during the game which kept him out of the early part of the NRL season.
It’s a knockout
Nathan Merritt’s played his first Koori Knockout at age 15 with his father Tony for the Redfern All Blacks. Nathan went on to win an amazing six Koori Knockouts for Cec Patten-Ron Merritt Memorial side (2003–06) and the Redfern All Blacks (2016–17).
Now this is stuff of legend. Nathan didn’t turn up as a spectator for South Sydney’s 2014 Grand Final as he was up in the Hunter trying to win a knockout for his beloved Redfern All Blacks.
Calling it quits
Nathan emotionally announced his retirement on 24 September 2014 with aspirations to start up the Nathan Merritt Foundation to provide support and mentoring to local Aboriginal youth. Nathan’s final season consisted of 12 appearances and 2 tries, a sheer contrast to the previous one.
Nathan didn’t give the game away entirely. He played for the Redfern All Blacks A Grade in the South Sydney Juniors competition for 2015 and 2016, winning both competitions. He then traveled up to the Hunter and signed on for the Shortland Devils A Grade team. This year he is heading west and playing A Grade for the Wellington Cowboys in move to get rid of the drug ice from the community.