Selecting the greatest NRL side of all time
169 Have your say
Mercurial Billy Slater for the Melbourne Storm in the NRL (Image: AAP)
Selecting the squad of the best NRL players of all time? No easy feat. And I can almost guarantee that not one single Roarer will agree with the 17 players that I have selected.
A few things to note before I reveal my team:
Firstly, this is the greatest NRL team of all time, not the greatest rugby league team.
The NRL’S first season was in 1998, after the ARL and Super League hosted separate competitions in 1997.
As such, some legends of the game, including every single rugby league Immortal, are ineligible. This is essentially a team of the best players of the last fifteen years, and the prime of any selected player’s career had to fall in that time period.
Secondly, a unique wrinkle to this age old pub debate, borrowed from the great Bill Simmons: Aliens have landed on Earth and challenged us to a game of rugby league. The winner gets the small prize of keeping the planet.
It’s therefore important to remember that this isn’t a team selected for honours, it’s a team selected to win. That means chemistry, style and balance all matter.
With those hypotheticals out of the way, a drum roll please for the unveiling of my side to save the universe . . .
1. Billy Slater
2. Lote Tuqiri
3. Greg Inglis
4. Justin Hodges
5. Jarryd Hayne
6. Darren Lockyer (C)
7. Andrew Johns
8. Shane Webcke
9. Cameron Smith
10. Petero Civenociva
11. Gorden Tallis
12. Ben Kennedy
13. Brad Fittler
14. Paul Gallen
15. Steve Price
16. Nathan Hindmarsh
17. Sonny Bill Williams
Billy Slater picks himself, as he is arguably the best fullback of all-time. His support play off some of the greatest ball players the game has ever known, in Johns, Lockyer and Fittler, will be near unstoppable.
Throw in his brilliant defense, counter attacking skills, and expertise at defusing bombs (which I’m sure the aliens will be packing), and this selection is a no-brainer.
On the wings are Tuqiri and Hayne.
It’s important to remember that I’m selecting the Brisbane Broncos version of Lote Tuqiri, who was a devastating finisher on the flank. Combining speed, strength and skill, I expect Tuqiri to enjoy the benefits of playing outside such great players, as he’ll get plenty of quality ball.
On the other wing, I’m picking Hayne for the simple fact that the bigger the stage, the better he performs. And there could be no bigger stage than defending the Earth. Hayne raises his game when it matters, and I have no hesitation in handing him a spot on the wing.
Greg Inglis is an exceptional talent, has few weaknesses in game, and can dominate a game of rugby league like few others. He was never not going to make this side, plus everyone knows aliens hate shoulder charges.
The other centre spot was a little more difficult to choose. Mark Gasnier, Jamie Lyon, Matt Cooper, Willie Tonga, Nigel Vagana, Brent Tate, Michael Jennings and Timana Tahu, among others, were all considered.
In the end I couldn’t go past Justin Hodges’ ability in both attack and defense. I’m not completely comfortable with this selection, because Hodges in his prime, while quicker, was also prone to costly mental errors.
I’m salivating at the halves pairing. Arguably the two greatest players of the last fifteen years, the thought of Lockyer and Johns orchestrating play together can only bring a smile to any rugby league fan’s face.
With these guys controlling play, it almost wouldn’t matter who the other fifteen players in the squad were, I’d still back the Earth team to win.
Leading the forward pack will be the amazing Cameron Smith. Something tells me that all the class, talent and toughness around him will make Smith an even more dangerous player.
His dummy half skills will ensure that Lockyer and Johns receive quality service, and the forwards will benefit from his flat passes, helping to make plenty of yards. In a team full of superstars, Smith very well may be the most important ingredient in an Earth victory.
The props will be asked to lay a strong foundation for the exciting backline, and could you select a better pair of bookends than Maroons pair Petero Civenociva and Shane Webcke?
Two of the hardest working, no-nonsense and classiest individuals in rugby league, Petero and Webcke will provide plenty of go-forward and lots of stiff defense. Good luck with that, aliens.
I’m really excited about the second rowers too. As tough as the front row is, and as classy as the back line is, every team needs a little bit of mongrel.
Enter Gorden Tallis and Ben Kennedy, whom I’ve nicknamed ‘Crash and Bash’. These two will bend the line, smash opponents in defense, and supply the requisite aggression. I actually feel sorry for the world of hurt that awaits our invaders.
Brad Fittler is one of my all time favourite players, however he was never going to usurp Lockyer at number six. Thankfully, he also played plenty of lock in his career, and his unique skills add another dimension to an already formidable forward pack.
The versatility of the players already selected means I don’t need to pick a utility player on the bench.
Fittler, Hayne and Inglis provide enough flexibility to cover any backline injury concerns, and Slater, Johns, Lockyer and Smith will play 80 minutes each. So Kurt Gidley, Craig Wing, Shaun Berrigan, etc, were simply going to be surplus to requirements.
Paul Gallen’s form over the last three or four seasons ensured his selection. While he’s become the prototypical 80 minute player, I’ll be asking him for short, sharp bursts of impact off the bench. The fact he can cover every position in the forward pack, bar hooker, makes him even more valuable.
It may be easy to forget, but Nathan Hindmarsh in his prime was one of the best players in the world.
Everyone knows about his enormous work rate in defense, which has continued on into the twilight of his career, but before all the tackling had an effect on his attacking game, he was devastating ball runner and potent offensive weapon. A fantastic asset to have on the bench.
The reserve prop spot took a while to materialise, but in the end I selected the brilliant consistency of Steve Price. You know you’ll get a lot of metres and a lot of tackles out of him, and he’s a perfect substitution for Petero and Webcke.
Lastly, and the most controversial selection, but a player I had penned in as a certainty right from the start. Love him or hate him, Sonny Bill Williams is one of the most devastating rugby league players of all time, and you can’t deny the fact the man is a freak.
An amazing physical specimen with sublime ball skills, Williams will dominate the game when brought on against a tiring extraterrestrial outfit.
So there are the seventeen players from the NRL competition that have been entrusted to defend the planet. I think we’re in pretty safe hands, but what say you Roarers?
Ryan is an ex-representative basketballer who shot too much, and a (very) medium pace bowler. He's been with The Roar as an expert since February 2011, has written for the Seven Network, and been a regular on ABC radio. Ryan tweets from @RyanOak.