Picking the Kangaroos’ best all-time XIII

John Coomer Roar Guru

70 Have your say

    With the World Cup about to start, here’s an attempt at comparing the stats to come up with Australia’s greatest XIII across all eras.

    For this exercise, I’ve only taken in to account each player’s achievements and longevity when wearing the green and gold jersey, not their interstate or club football careers.

    That selection criteria makes it different from the Team of the Century that was named to celebrate rugby league’s centenary year in 2008. Players’ career performances at all senior levels were considered when selecting that team.

    For example, prolific try-scoring winger Brian Bevan made that side, even though he never played for Australia. He only played eight games for Easts before playing the rest of his career (more than 600 games) in England.

    So here are my greatest Kangaroos, with some debatable omissions in a couple of positions, and a surprise or two. One or two players have been slotted into their non-preferred positions to squeeze them in, but in those cases, they have at least played in the position for Australia at some stage.

    Fullback: Graeme Langlands
    45 matches (18 at fullback), 20 tries, 73 goals, five years as captain, three as captain-coach, two World Cup wins.

    (Unlucky omissions: Clive Churchill, 37 Tests, 27 as captain, two years as captain-coach. Billy Slater, 25 Tests, 22 tries, one World Cup).

    Winger: Greg Inglis
    39 matches (six on the wing), 31 tries, one World Cup win.

    Greg Inglis dons the Rourke's drift jersey

    (Photo: NRL)

    Centre: Bob Fulton
    35 matches (16 in the centres), 25 tries, one year as captain, three World Cup wins.

    Centre: Reg Gasnier
    39 matches, 28 tries, six years as captain, three as captain-coach.

    (Very unlucky omission: Mal Meninga, 46 Tests, 21 tries, 99 goals, five years as captain, the only player to make four Kangaroo Tours to Great Britain and France, one World Cup win).

    Winger: Ken Irvine
    31 matches, 33 tries, 11 goals.

    Five-eighth: Darren Lockyer
    59 matches (34 at five-eighth), 35 tries, 31 goals, eight years as captain, one World Cup win.

    (Unlucky omissions: Brad Fittler, 40 Tests, 17 tries, six years as captain, two World Cup wins. Wally Lewis, 34 Tests, 11 tries, six years as captain, one World Cup win).

    Halfback: Johnathan Thurston
    39 matches (22 at halfback), 13 tries, 170 goals, one World Cup win.

    (Unlucky omission: Andrew Johns, 24 Tests (12 at halfback), 7 tries, 78 goals, two years as captain, two World Cup wins).

    Johnathon Thurston Australia Kangaroos Rugby League Anzac Test 2017

    (Image: NRL)

    Prop: Artie Beetson
    29 matches, 1 try, five years as captain, two World Cup wins.

    Hooker: Cameron Smith
    50 matches, 9 tries, 42 goals, seven years as captain, one World Cup win.

    Prop: Petero Civoniceva
    45 matches, 2 tries, three Tri/Nour Nations series wins.

    Second Row: Ron Coote
    23 matches, 13 tries, one year as captain, two World Cup wins.

    Second Row: Sam Thaiday
    34 matches (21 as a starting second-rower), 2 tries, one World Cup win.

    (Unlucky omission: Paul Gallen, 32 Tests (5 as a second-rower), 3 tries, one World Cup win).

    Lock: Johnny Raper
    39 matches, 11 tries, two years as captain, one World Cup win.

    For the record, this was the 2008 Team of the Century:

    1. Clive Churchill
    2. Brian Bevan
    3. Reg Gasnier
    4. Mal Meninga
    5. Ken Irvine
    6. Wally Lewis
    7. Andrew Johns
    8. Arthur Beetson
    9. Noel Kelly
    10. Duncan Hall
    11. Norm Provan
    12. Ron Coote
    13. Johnny Raper

    14. Graeme Langlands
    15. Dally Messenger
    16. Bob Fulton
    17. Frank Burge

    There have been upsets aplenty in the World Cup so far, so be sure to check out our expert tips and predictions for South Korea vs Sweden, Belgium vs Panama and England vs Tunisia and get the good oil on who to tip tonight.

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    The Crowd Says (70)

    • October 21st 2017 @ 2:37am
      Tenfour said | October 21st 2017 @ 2:37am | ! Report

      Sam Thaiday?

    • October 21st 2017 @ 7:33am
      Adam Bagnall said | October 21st 2017 @ 7:33am | ! Report

      Sam Thaiday? Bye bye credibility

      • Roar Guru

        October 21st 2017 @ 11:12am
        John Coomer said | October 21st 2017 @ 11:12am | ! Report

        I’m not saying he’s anywhere near the best second rower Australia has ever produced, the side is based on achievements and length of service in the green and gold jumper.

        • October 23rd 2017 @ 7:43pm
          terrence said | October 23rd 2017 @ 7:43pm | ! Report

          Sorry John, Bagnell was right. SamThaiday is a good player, no doubt, worthy of his rep honours when received.

          But he’d barely make the 10th best Australian team of all time.

          Fair dinkum, give yourself an upper cut and pick up your crayon and start again.

          PS. Not sold on Inglis either.

          • Roar Guru

            October 23rd 2017 @ 7:56pm
            John Coomer said | October 23rd 2017 @ 7:56pm | ! Report

            Yep and he earned 34 Test Caps, making him one one of the longest serving Australian forwards of all time, which as I explained in the article, was a criteria for selection. It’s not the best Kangaroos 13 of all time, its about blokes who have done a lot in the jersey. The misleading heading was put on the article by the Roar’s editors, presumably to spark debate, so mission accomplished.

    • October 21st 2017 @ 8:00am
      soapit said | October 21st 2017 @ 8:00am | ! Report

      really need to consider win/loss for the world cups, they didnt play it for quite a while

    • October 21st 2017 @ 8:14am
      Duncan Smith said | October 21st 2017 @ 8:14am | ! Report

      Off the top of my head, I would say

      Backs – Slater, Irvine, Meninga, Gasnier, Inglis, Thurston, Johns.
      Forwards – Beetson, Smith, Lazarus, Provan, Clyde, Raper.

      • October 21st 2017 @ 10:43am
        bearfax said | October 21st 2017 @ 10:43am | ! Report

        You obviously never saw Fulton play. Would leave Meninga in his wake. And Clyde was a fine player but no where near the best second row we’ve had. And no way would I leave the best player I have ever seen since starting to watch league in 1966, that being Lewis. Thurston and Lewis as half and 5/8 by a mile.

        • Roar Guru

          October 21st 2017 @ 11:56am
          John Coomer said | October 21st 2017 @ 11:56am | ! Report

          I agree Lewis is a better player, but my criteria was about their achievements purely for Australia, and on that basis Lockyer playing 25 more Tests got him my nod.
          And I agree re Fulton. Even though Mal played more tests than him, Fulton’s try-scoring strike rate (25 in 35 Tests) trumps Mal’s (21 in 46).

          • October 21st 2017 @ 12:51pm
            KBG said | October 21st 2017 @ 12:51pm | ! Report

            in other words, it is a list of who played lots of games and any other twist that suits you and has very little to do with the claim of being the best xiii. what on earth is the point?
            i’m a broncos fan but, as much as i love sam, there is not enough alcohol on this planet to ever come up with him as part of our greatest team. spare me.
            i reckon i have seen the vast majority of top level football both lewis and lockyer played, even back to Wally’s days at Valleys. again, love what Locky offered and what he did. be a perfect inclusion on the bench for this team. but ahead of lewis? beyond comprehension.
            no one is ever going to pick a best of side that will get unanimous acclaim but this one is just silly. good way to remove any shred of credibility.
            that said, i would genuinely be interested in what you thought really was the best xiii, on merit, not games played etc.

            • Roar Guru

              October 21st 2017 @ 2:15pm
              John Coomer said | October 21st 2017 @ 2:15pm | ! Report

              My original heading for this article was The Greatest Kangaroos (based on their achievements/longevity in the jersey), I didn’t claim it was the best 13 to have ever worn the jersey. The point is that some guys have been great servants for the Kangaroos, as their stats demonstrate.
              The Roar’s editors changed the heading to the best 13, presumably to spark debate.
              A merit team would be taking into account their entire club and State careers as well, which is what the Team of the Century already did in 2008. And the only changes you’d consider to that side would be guys who have dominated at all levels since it was chosen (e.g. Thurston and Smith).

              • October 21st 2017 @ 2:23pm
                KBG said | October 21st 2017 @ 2:23pm | ! Report

                fair enough (and i sympathise, as one who has been subjected to editorial whims re headlines, though not on the roar).
                to me, it is of far more interest to hear your views on what are the best, not what longevity dictates.

          • Roar Guru

            October 22nd 2017 @ 12:37pm
            Cadfael said | October 22nd 2017 @ 12:37pm | ! Report

            In many ways this does discount a number of players. More modern players makke the cut because players retired early because the game was only semi professional. The money wasn’t there to set players up for life as they can now.

            I thought the team of the century was better but with Sterling there in place of Johns.

    • October 21st 2017 @ 8:31am
      bear54 said | October 21st 2017 @ 8:31am | ! Report


      That team would scare modern opposition off the park and I can’t even find a place for my personal favourites Price, Clyde, Sterling, Steve Mortimer, Stuart, Steve Walters, Kenny, Hancock, Renouf, Lazarus and Langer.

      NB: Sam Thaiday wouldn’t be in my top 20 second rowers.

      • Roar Guru

        October 21st 2017 @ 11:15am
        John Coomer said | October 21st 2017 @ 11:15am | ! Report

        I think that’s a great side but it’s using different criteria to mine (which was achievements and length of service purely in the green and gold jersey). That’s how Thaiday earns a spot in mine.

    • October 21st 2017 @ 8:58am
      Oingo Boingo said | October 21st 2017 @ 8:58am | ! Report

      Wally Lewis has to be in any collective side of greats , and as captain.
      The guy had XXXX factor , like no other .
      I hated him in Maroon , but loved him in Green n Gold .
      I remember a SOO game in Sydney , The Blues were on top and the crowd started chanting ” Wallies a waanker” , and I thought , noooooo don’t do it .
      Wally stepped up to plate and silenced the crowd within minutes.
      He had the ability to turn a game almost at will .
      The rest of the team is open to debate, but Wally is non negotiable.

      • October 21st 2017 @ 9:30am
        Jeffrey Dun said | October 21st 2017 @ 9:30am | ! Report

        Agree about Wally. He would be one of the first chosen in my side.

      • Roar Guru

        October 21st 2017 @ 11:18am
        John Coomer said | October 21st 2017 @ 11:18am | ! Report

        As I mentioned in the article, my side is based purely on their achievements in the green and gold jersey. Lockyer played 25 more Tests for Australia than Wally, he is the most capped Kangaroo of all time. But if I picked it based on who I thought was the better footballer, I would pick Wally over Lockyer any day of the week.

        • Roar Guru

          October 22nd 2017 @ 3:12pm
          Rellum said | October 22nd 2017 @ 3:12pm | ! Report

          Wally was extremely influential for Aus, even if Locky played more games I would still pick Wally over Locky ar 5/8th.

        • October 23rd 2017 @ 8:42pm
          terrence said | October 23rd 2017 @ 8:42pm | ! Report

          John, I’m not sure why you, ahem, “Guru”‘ status flotsom jetsom on this site write these poorly articulated theses with hundreds of goal post shifting defensive reasons for your thesis holding substance, but basically the ongoing defence for article reading like absolute rubbish.

          The sub editors changed my headline…
          The dog ate my homework…
          He played more than him but statically, yes, the other player I left out that you raised was better and more deserving, but…
          This was hypothetical…
          I forgot my medication again…
          Please re-read my article and criteria again…
          I have nothing to do today and I am starved of attention…
          I’m a big fan of…. but, he didn’t make it because…
          Some of my best friends are gay…
          It’s subjective…

          So where to from here for you?

          Write an article that doesn’t have hundreds of caveats to the premise that need ongoing re-establishing for readers.

          Hope this helps.

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