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Who are the greatest Englishmen to have played rugby league Down Under?

The Big Burly Britons. Don't tell them they don't have the right to be there. (AAP Image/Action Photographics, Renee McKay)
Roar Pro
20th August, 2018
46

Every time an English import strings together some good games they’re hailed as the best arrival at the colony since Malcolm Reilly.

Sam Burgess and James Graham cop the compliment, with the rider Reilly is always rated Pom No.1.

But who would be in the best team of English visitors?

Burgess is playing No.13 for Souths, and is perhaps the best forward going around, but lock is reserved for Reilly, so the versatile Burgess can slot into his familiar role as a prop.

There have been some great front-rower visitors; the late Cronulla hard man Cliff Watson and Kevin Ward during his Manly stint, but Graham shades both on his best days because of his ball-playing skills.

There is one that rates above them all, however.

Different times, different games, but Brian McTigue is acknowledged as the finest English ball-player of all time, his skills evidenced in two winning Lions tours Down Under.

He couldn’t get out of a trot when he went to Bathurst, aged 37, but the fact that he ran on Australian soil qualifies the legend.

Canberra’s Josh Hodgson is a star with all the skills and Manly and Norths’ John Gray would be a contender as either prop or hooker, but Mike Stephenson would be dummy half, and hooker if proper scrums were called for.

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Dewsbury’s Stephenson excelled in Great Britain’s winning 1972 World Cup campaign before joining Penrith on a then-record $39,000 transfer, and he held the Panthers together through seasons of turmoil.

There have been a plethora of backrowers, Adrian Morley, Gareth Ellis, Lee Crooks, Phil Lowe, Steve Norton, Doug Laughton and Bill Ashurst among them. But, as McTigue is acknowledged as the best English ball player, Dick Huddart is considered their best running forward.

He was with McTigue on those two winning tours and although he scored a try in the grand final and capped his career as a member of St George’s 1966 premiership team, he was past his best by them.

Like McTigue, his status in history gets him a guernsey, however.

The skilled and tough Brian Lockwood can earn the other backrow spot for his stint with the Bulldogs and Tigers, and as representative par excellence of the type of English forward that once flourished.

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Graham Williams was a creative and dynamic halfback with Norths, returned to England after he lost his wife in a parachuting accident, then returned to play with Manly in premiership years, before tragically losing his own life in a motorcycle accident.

Halfback Gary Stephens saw premiership service with Manly but there can only be one choice – the pugnacious Tommy Bishop, after his stint with Cronulla.

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St George’s Gareth Widdop carries on a tradition of impressive English pivots including Roger Millward, the late and underrated Dave Topliss and the Welsh wizard Lewis Jones with Wentworthville in the second division, but Dave Bolton is up there with McTigue and Huddart in English annals.

Bolton had almost seniors status but was still man-of-the-match in Balmain’s famous 1969 grand-final upset against Souths and has to be five-eighth.

Ellery Hanley and Gary Schofield pick themselves as centres.

It’s forgotten that in 1966, the Riverina staged a mini Super League forerunner and Junee attracted England winger Mike Sullivan as captain-coach.

Sullivan had seen his best days by then but those had included 46 Tests – a record he shares with Schofield – and a record 44 tries.

The late Sullivan was also an accomplished stiff-arm merchant from the days when men were men and scrums were scrums.

Speed merchant and crowd-pleaser Martin Offiah maintained his tryscoring average in short stints with Easts and St George but had his defensive deficiencies, which puts him the great tradition of show-pony wingers decried by forwards.

Brian Carney was impressive in his short stint with Newcastle but frequent representative visitor and former Rooster Joe Lydon can have the other flank.

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George Fairbairn and Steve Hampson rate up the front from fullback but the little Welshman Jonathan Davies, remembered for a short and successful stint with Cantebury and a less successful one with the Cowboys after injuries, can be the custodian.

He is best remembered for his 60-metre try, which highlighted a 12-man hosts’ 8-4 Wembley win over the Kangaroos in the first Test of the 1994 tour.

Order a pint of English bitter and start the disagreements.