MILESTONE: Ben McLennan will break the record for first-grade matches played with the Grafton Ghosts this weekend.
MILESTONE: Ben McLennan will break the record for first-grade matches played with the Grafton Ghosts this weekend. Adam Hourigan

Hard-hitting Ghost outlives them all

RUGBY LEAGUE: When he runs on to Frank McGuren Field in the blue and white tomorrow, Ghosts stalwart Ben McLennan will become the most capped first-grade player in the club's history.

But it is an accolade he never thought would be possible.

Had it not been for a text message from club president Joe Kinnane in the off-season, it wouldn't have happened.

Following the Ghosts' historic grand-final victory over the South Grafton Rebels at their hallowed turf last season, McLennan was ready to finally make good on his promise of hanging up the boots.

Not only did he hang them up, he launched them on top of the grandstand.

Ghosts leader Ben McLennan crosses the halfway line during the Group 2 first grade second round clash between Grafton Ghosts and Sawtell Panthers at Frank McGuren Field.
Ghosts leader Ben McLennan crosses the halfway line during the Group 2 first grade second round clash between Grafton Ghosts and Sawtell Panthers at Frank McGuren Field. Matthew Elkerton

"It was like lifting a weight off my shoulders,” McLennan said. "It was a hard thing leading up to the grand final thinking it would be my last game, but I wanted to go out with a bang.

"We played the Rebels at home and beat them convincingly. It is a massive thing to beat those blokes, let alone in a grand final at home, and I thought that was the perfect sign-off for me.”

But with the Ghosts losing several players in the off-season and in need of an extra body, Kinnane threw a Hail Mary to get his favourite son back on the field.

"I climbed up the grandstand, pulled his boots down and sent him a text message. It said, 'I found this pair of boots, now all I need is a great lock to wear them,'” Kinnane said.

"He sent me back a message that pretty much said, 'I wouldn't let you down.' I think that sums up what kind of bloke he is, he doesn't want to let anyone down.

"I am so proud to see him bring up this milestone, not just because he is a good player but because he is a good friend.”

McLennan will play his 168th first-grade game, breaking a 12-year record set by current under-18s coach Shaun Davison.

He started his career as a young red-headed upstart in the Ghosts U18s ranks in 2006 and by the end of the year had already made several appearances in first grade. But it would not be until 2008, under Col Speed, when he would officially start in the top ranks.

Despite stints with Parramatta Eels U20s and a year with the Condamine Cods rugby union side, McLennan has always called the Ghosts home during the past 12 years.

"Going right through juniors and into first grade, it was always a good family culture. We were always so close going through the years,” he said.

McLennan has achieved plenty in his career with Grafton, including three Clayton Cups, several NRRRL best and fairest medals, and captain-coaching the club to the grand final in 2016.

Grafton Ghosts v Casino Cougars at McGuren Park. Pictured for the Ghosts is Ben McLennan.
Grafton Ghosts v Casino Cougars at McGuren Park. Pictured for the Ghosts is Ben McLennan. Debrah Novak

But it hasn't all been roses. He had to help the club through tough times, while at home it was even tougher.

He lost his mum to a battle with cancer two years ago, but through all the pain there was one constant: the club.

"I have gone through a lot of ups and downs in my time with the Ghosts, but the club has stuck by me through it all.”

The Ghosts will be aiming to celebrate McLennan's milestone in winning fashion this weekend, but it will not be an easy task for the side as they host a resurgent Macksville Sea Eagles at home.

The club will also celebrate its Pink Ladies Day to raise money for the Clarence Valley Breast Cancer Support Group.

The action kicks off in four grades from 11am.

GHOSTS' MOST CAPPED: 168* Ben McLennan, 167 Shaun Davison, 164 Khan Williams, 149 Phil Warby

GHOSTS SIDE: 1. Cooper Woods, 2. Carson Galloway, 3. Dylan Collett, 4. Ben Liyou, 5. Jay Olsen, 6. Blake Winmill, 7. Jake Frame, 8. Ben McLennan, 9. Todd Cameron, 10. Adam Slater, 11. Matt Muller, 12. Danny Wicks (c/c), 13. Michael Curnow, 14. Daniel Lavender, 15. Luke Collison



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