Who are the immortals of Australian rugby union? There have been many great players over the years, but these six stand above the pack.
Almost universally regarded as the best player in the world during his time, Trevor Allen was once described by former Australian coach and player Dave Brockhoff as the greatest Wallaby player of all time.
“Trevor Allan’s rugby career was resplendent in feats only achieved by immortals,” Phil Wilkins said.
“I doubt that I have ever laid eyes on a better defending centre who also excelled in attack. There are few better leaders,’ Sir Nick Shehedie said.
Former All Black Chris Laidlaw wrote that Catchpole was “the outstanding scrumhalf of the last decade.”
“Others have made contributions to techniques in passing, kicking, and running, but as the supreme exponent of all the skills Catchpole stands beyond rivalry,” Laidlaw continued.
“Not only was he quicker of thought, action and reactions, but a judicious kicker and more subtle runner than either Going or Edwards… Catchpole was… years ahead of his time.”
“His pass was never long – he considered it a waste of time. It was, however, phenomenally fast and his technique of delivery perfect. No elegant dive pass, no laboured swivel to avoid passing off the weak arm – just a flash of light to his flyhalf.”
“Only a fool would name any scrumhalf before Ken Catchpole, and certainly no Australian ever would.”
“After Australia defeated England 23-11, the President of the English rugby union endorsed this view [of Catchpole] at a dinner of the 1966-67 Wallabies with this unequivocal statement: ‘Ken Catchpole is the greatest halfback rugby has known’,” T.P. McLean recounted, as quoted by Spiro Zavos.
Perhaps no Australian rugby player has meant more to the Wallaby jersey than Mark Loane.
Former Australian flanker Simon Poidevin once wrote that Loane “was something of a god, and I guess my feeling was the same as a young actor getting a bit part in a movie with Dustin Hoffmann”.
“Loaney was a huge inspiration, and I tailed him around the field hoping to feed off him whenever he made one of those titanic bursts where he’d split the defence.”
“Sticking to him in that Test paid off handsomely, because Loaney splintered the Frenchmen in one charge, gave to me and I went for the line for all I was worth. I saw Blanco coming at me out of the corner of my eye, but was just fast enough to make the corner for my first Test try. I walked back with the whole of the grandstand yelling and cheering. God and Loaney had been good to me.”
Mark Ella is regarded by almost every player he played with as the best rugby player of all time.
Inside-centre Michael Hawker has said he was the best player with whom he played. By 1984, fullback Roger Gould had uttered a similar sentiment.
Dual-international and outside-centre Michael O’Connor wrote that Ella was a genius. “He was the best player I played with or against in both codes,” O’Connor claimed.
Wally Lewis has said similar things, while David Campese wrote that Ella was “the best rugby player I have ever known or seen.”
Former England captain Will Carling wrote of Campese that “he was well ahead of his time”.
“His anticipation and vision was way ahead of what everyone else was attempting, and 99 percent of it came off. He took running lines no one else could fathom and made passes no one could see were on. He was an extraordinary talent – the best winger.”
Former Irish five-eighth Tony Ward famously said that he was “Maradona, the Pelé of international rugby all rolled into one”.
“You cannot put a value on his importance to our game. He is a breath of fresh air and I think perhaps the greatest player of all time.”
John Eales was voted the greatest Wallaby of all time in 2003 by a panel of rugby experts. Eales is one of only five players to have won two World Cup medals. He boasts a winning record against New Zealand of 11-9, a ratio nobody else can claim who played the All Blacks more than 15 times. He is also regarded by many as Australia’s greatest rugby union captain.