Where do Maroons sit in sport’s best-ever teams?
Queensland sits on the precipice of notching a tremendous feat; seven Origin series wins in a row. But where would this achievement rate in the all-time history of sport?
The Queensland team of the past seven years has been a special side. Any team that features the likes of Darren Lockyer, Billy Slater, Cameron Smith, Johnathan Thurston and Greg Inglis, and can win year-in-year-out in a very close two-horse race, is both ridiculously talented and stands out from virtually every other rugby league side ever.
If they can claim victory in Wednesday’s night decider, then they are above every other Queensland Origin team – yes, the ones that featured The King, Alfie and Big Mal himself. If they do win at Suncorp, maybe they are the best league team ever.
The 1982 Kangaroos outfit which won 22 games in a row were pretty handy. ‘The Invincibles’ had fantastic players in every position, perhaps more than any other team. This Australia line-up included the Parramatta trio of Brett Kenny, Peter Sterling, Eric Grothe and Ray Price, Queenslanders Mal Meninga, Wally Lewis and Gene Miles, not to mention Wayne Pearce, Steve Rogers, Steve Mortimer and Max Krilich and many others.
What a team! It’s little surprise they were unbeaten in Britain and France. The strength of international footy versus the Origin arena is a contentious one, but that kind of run and that kind of quality is special in any era.
Then you have the St George side that won 11 grand finals in a row, from 1956 to 1966. That is simply phenomenal. I never saw that team play but to pull off that kind of record, over more than a decade, is fantastic. This team evolved over the years with players coming in and out, but they featured some brilliant footballers.
Ken Kearney, Norm Provan, Billy Wilson, Brian Clay, Eddie Lumsden and Harry Bath were giants of the game, and they were followed by the equally freakish Johnny Raper, Reg Gasnier and Graeme Langlands. This Dragons side achieved something in rugby league that has never been bettered, and in reality, never will.
Moving away from rugby league, and we have just been treated to one of the greatest-ever international football (soccer) teams over the past four years. Spain have just collected their second European Championship title in a row, to go with their 2010 World Cup trophy, an achievement that has never been done before.
They have changed the face of football with their exquisite passing, attacking play and ball movement, and have done it in the most competitive sport in the world, played by more people than any other. The world awaits Brazil 2014 to see if they can be stopped.
Other great international sides include Brazil’s 1970 World Cup winners, which featured Pele, Carlos Alberto, Jairzinho, Tostao, Gerson and Rivelinho. They are probably the only other contenders to match up with today’s all-conquering Spanish XI.
On the club side, the greatest (in my mind), would be the Real Madrid side of the late 50s early 60s. Any team that boasts Di Stefano and Puskas – two of the best ever – is special, but it also included Gento, Del Sol, Canario, Zrraga, Vidal, Pachin, Santamari, Marquitos and Dominguez. Real won the European Cup won five times in a row between 1956 and 1960, something you are unlikely to see again. These were the real galaticos.
Who are the other teams from other sports that could match these sides? Well, the 1977-78 undefeated Australian Schoolboys rugby union team was a fabulous one. The three Ella brothers plus Wally Lewis, Michael O’Connor, Tony Melrose, Michael Hawker and Dominco Vaughan was an amazing assembly of talent that were unbeaten. In rugby union the All Blacks sides of 1905 and 1921 were outstanding, as was the inaugural 1987 World Cup winners.
In basketball, I can’t go past the original Dream Team, USA’s 1992 Olympics squad. Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird were just the tipping point of a team so deep it was insane.
They romped home to the gold medal without breaking a sweat, and apparently their practices where they faced off against each other were more intense than the games against their opposition. A kind of ultimate NBA All-Star game, with all the usual the pomp and glamour stripped away. Oh to be a fly on the wall in Barcelona then.
Of course there has been other fantastic sports in other sports – the 1961 New York Yankees, the 2001-02 Detroit Red Wings, 1927-30 Collingwood side, 1954-60 Melbourne Demons, 1997-2005 Australian cricket team, Don Bradman’s 1948 Invincibles etc etc.
Comparing different sports and different eras remains problematic. But the consideration of greatness, for me, comes down to a few things. Merely being talented is not enough. Ultimate success is paramount, as is prolonged success over time and the ability to take the sport to new heights and change it. The ability to juggle egos in such a quality team, is also important.
The 1974 and 1978 Dutch teams were stacked full of talent and brilliance, making two World Cup finals, but could not make the next step and win either penultimate games. The same goes for the fearsome 1995 All Blacks World Cup outfit.
So over to you Roarers …
Where do you rate this Queensland Origin team among the history of rugby league’s great sides? And across all codes who have been the best of the best, the greatest teams ever in the pantheon of world sport?