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Rugby league history: The all-time great alphabet teams – Letter A

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Roar Guru
23rd February, 2019

Having set the ground rules for team selection in my earlier article, here are the representatives for the ‘A’ team.

Although only containing one member of the Hall of Fame, they are composed almost entirely of Australian Test representatives.

With an electric backline and a brilliant half, the team will hold its own if the relatively weaker forward pack can give them some space.

In my selection rules I said I would not pick players out of position. And here we are – first team, first position – and Darren Albert gets picked at fullback.

To be fair he played there 17 times in his 235-game club career. With four international wingers to choose from, the As are well stocked in that area, but none of those played any fullback.

1. Darren Albert
Years active: 1996-2006
Clubs: Newcastle, St Helens (UK), Cronulla
Club games: 230 (165 tries)
Representative Career: NSW – 1
Nickname: DJ

Albert was a key player for Newcastle during their great era when the club won premierships in 1997 and 2001.

Albert scored 65 tries in 89 games for Newcastle and of course scored what may be the most important try in their history, when he linked with Andrew Johns to score the match winner in 1997.

Albert had a successful four year stint in England with St Helens, highlighted by winning the Challenge Cup in 2004 and the Premiership in 2002. He returned to Australia for a final year with Cronulla.


Albert represented NSW in Game 1 of the 1999 State of Origin series, losing to QLD by one point.

Albert has hardly ever watched a replay of the moment he stills regards as the highlight of his career – the famous try that snatched the 1997 grand final for Newcastle in the dying seconds against Manly.

“I’ve heard so much about it from everyone else so there’s no real need to”.

Darren Albert

Sharks’ Darren Albert breaks through the Bulldogs defence during the NRL Rugby League match, Bulldogs v Sharks at Telstra Stadium, Sydney, Sunday, May 21, 2006. Bulldogs won 32-24. (AAP Image/Action Photographics/Grant Trouville)

2. Cecil Aynsley
Honours: QRL Team of the Century, QLD Sport Hall of Fame.
Years active: 1922-1935
Clubs: Wests Panthers (QLD), Ipswich Starlights (QLD), Rochedale Hornets (UK)
Representative Career: Tests – 4. QLD – 37.
Nickname: The Red Flyer

Cecil Aynsley holds the odd distinction of being the only player not included in the Hall of Fame but included in the QLD Team of the Century.

Aynsley was an electric winger in the 1920s who played many times for QLD. He only played four Tests for Australia but scored a try in each one.

He scored Australia’s only try in his Test debut against England in 1924, playing alongside Harold Horder, Tom Gorman and Cec Blinkhorn in a legendary three-quarter line. He also scored 34 tries in ten matches on the 1925 QLD tour of New Zealand.


After moving to Brisbane from Charters Towers, Aynsley won a Brisbane rugby league premiership in 1922 in his first season with Western Suburbs, scoring two tries in the grand final.

Aynsley’s time for Queensland coincided with an era of dominance by the Maroons, probably not matched until this century.

Queensland won five series in a row from 1922 to 1926, including eight games in a row. During that period Aynsley scored 14 tries from only 11 appearances. He only was on the losing side twice during this era.

How ‘The Red Flyer’ is not in the Hall of Fame is beyond me.

3. Jamie Ainscough
Honours: Dally M Centre of the Year 1995.
Years active: 1990-2003
Clubs: Western suburbs, Newcastle, St George, St George Illawarra, Wigan (UK)
Club games: 267 (117 tries, 6 goals, 4 field goals)
Representative Career: Tests – 1. NSW – 12.
Nickname: Roy and HG nickname – Cough Drop

Well known for being on the wrong end of a penalty try that lost St George Illawarra the 1999 premiership, Ainscough finally got his trophy some years later, winning the 2002 Challenge Cup with English glamour club Wigan.

Ray Warren on that penalty try: “Bill Harrigan is about to make one of the biggest calls that’s ever been made in 100 years of rugby league.”

Despite his unfortunate role in that grand final Ainscough was name the joint venture’s first player of the year in 1999.


Ainscough was a tough and creative centre from Narrabri who represented NSW from 1996-1997 and from 2000-2001.

This coincided with a period of dominance by NSW and Ainscough was on the winning side for eight out of his first nine appearances. He also represented Australia in one Test in 1995, coming on from the bench and scoring a try.

That year he was named as the competition’s premier centre.

In 2003 Ainscough went close to having his arm amputated following an infection found to have been caused after one of St. Helens player Martin Gleeson’s teeth was left embedded in Ainscough’s arm.

4. Don ‘Bandy’ Adams
Years active: 1950s – 1960s.
Clubs: Maitland Pickers.
Representative Career: Tests – 5. NSW – 7.
Nickname: Bandy

Another player out of position in the A Team – they have plenty of wingers but few centres.

‘Bandy’ Adams was a legend of NSW Country rugby League in the days when not all top players moved to Sydney.

Adams played out much of his career for the Maitland Pumpkin Pickers (playing 191 games for the club) and reportedly playing nearly 500 games over his career.


Described as nuggetty and bow legged, Adams was a quick and elusive winger. He played a home series for Australia against New Zealand in 1956, scoring five tries including a hat trick in the third Test.

Chosen for the 1956-57 Kangaroo tour, Adams played in one Test each against Great Britain and France and scored 11 tries from 21 appearances on tour. He also played seven times for NSW in 1955/56, scoring nine tries.

In the last of his 21 representative games for Newcastle, they defeated the touring British 23 to 18 in 1962.

5. Chris Anderson
Honours: Canterbury 70 Year Team of Champions. Halifax Hall of Fame.
Years active: 1971 – 1987
Clubs: Canterbury, Widnes (UK), Halifax (UK)
Club games: 341 (134 tries)
Representative Career: Tests – 12. NSW – 10.
Nickname: Ando

Chris Anderson was a stalwart for Canterbury Bankstown, playing 230 games for the club over 13 years, including their 1980 grand final win. At one time he held the club record for both most tries in a season and most career tries, finishing with 94.

Anderson is one of the few players to win a premiership in Australia both as player and coach (both with Canterbury), and in England, winning the Challenge Cup with Widnes in 1975 and winning the Championship in 1985/86 and the Challenge Cup with Halifax in 1987, the latter two as player-coach.

Anderson played 12 Tests from Australia and was a member of the 1978 and 1982 Kangaroo tours as well as the 1975 World Cup squad. He played ten times for NSW and scored the first hat trick in Origin history in 1983.

6. Braith Anasta
Honours: Dally M Five-eighth of the Year 2005.
Years active: 2000 – 2014
Clubs: Canterbury, Sydney Roosters, Wests Tigers
Club games: 288 (88 tries, 122 goals, 18 field goals)
Representative Career: Tests – 4. NSW – 10.
Nickname: Shakey (Roy andamp; HG nicknames – “The Black Hole” “Death and Poison” “The Car Horn”)


A talented running five-eighth or lock forward, Anasta played nearly 300 club games for Canterbury, the Sydney Roosters and the Wests Tigers.

He burst onto the scene as a teenager and was named Dally M Rookie of the year in 2001, earning a spot in the Kangaroo Tour that year. He played all three Tests on tour from the bench but that was to be the last time Anasta represented his country.

The following year Anasta represented NSW for the first time and he played ten Origins between 2002 and 2008, mainly in the number six.

Anasta was made the youngest ever captain of Canterbury in 2002 at 20 years and 145 days. He won a premiership with the club in 2004.

After joining the Roosters, Anasta was Dally M Captain of the Year in 2010 with the club going down in the grand final to St George Illawarra.

One of his greatest moments was kicking a 35-metre field goal in the dying seconds of the qualifying final that year against Wests Tigers to keep the Roosters’ season alive.

Anasta was once voted the most overrated player in rugby league Week’s annual pool. His response: “to be overrated, you’ve got to be rated first”.

Anasta played a Test for Greece against Hungary in 2013, scoring four tries and kicking thirteen goals.

Braith Anasta commentator

Sydney Roosters Braith Anasta arrives at the NRL Premiership season launch in Sydney on Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2012. The first round of the twenty six round 2012 season will be played on March 1st. (AAP Image/Paul Miller)

7. Greg Alexander (Goal kicker)
Honours: Nominated for ARL Hall of Fame 2018. Dally M Player of the Year 1985. Dally M Halfback of the year 1985, 1989 and 1991.
Years active: 1984 – 1999
Clubs: Penrith, Auckland
Club games: 275 (124 tries, 351 goals, 14 field goals)
Representative Career: Tests – 6. NSW – 7.
Nickname: Brandy

Penrith’s favourite son, Greg Alexander was the first home-grown player to represent his country and was the driving force behind the great Penrith side that won the club’s first premiership in 1991.

Alexander played 228 games for the club, scoring 100 tries. Fast, with an elusive step and swerve, ‘Brandy’ Alexander was also a great tactical kicker, a confident goal-kicker and an excellent cover-defender.

Alexander was selected for both the 1986 and 1990 Kangaroo Tours and played six Tests in all. His versatility saw him often selected at fullback for representative teams and he even played a Test for Australia on the wing (this A Team loves wingers).

Alexander was selected for every game on the 1990 Kangaroo Tour, although in two games he did not get any game time from the bench. He topped the point scoring for the Tour, culminating in scoring 28 points against France after coming on from the bench.

Alexander is the only player in history to win the Dally M rookie of the Year and Dally M Player of the Year in consecutive seasons.


8. Jim Armstrong
Years active: 1939 – 1947
Clubs: South Sydney
Club games: 83 (28 tries, four goals)
Representative Career: Tests – 1. NSW – 1.
Nickname: Big Jim

Who said the Melbourne Storm invented wrestling in rugby league? Big Jim Armstrong did play for his country, but he is better known as a wrestler, winning an Olympic bronze medal in 1948, one of only three Australians to ever win an Olympic medal for wrestling. He also won a British Empire Games gold medal in 1950 and a bronze medal in 1962.

Armstrong played rugby league as an amateur to maintain his Olympic eligibility. A tough man when being a front rower was a hard business, he played nine seasons in the engine room for Souths. Playing from 1939 he did not make his rep debut until after World War II when in the twilight of his career.

Armstrong played for NSW in 1946 and his sole Test appearance came in the third and deciding Test against Great Britain in the 1946 Ashes series.

9. Vic Anderson
Years active: 1908 – 1911
Clubs: Souths Brisbane (QLD)
Representative Career: Tests – 1. QLD – 17.

From the pioneering days of QLD rugby league comes Vic Anderson, a hooker and second rower who played for Souths Brisbane.


In 1908 he represented QLD in its first ever game of rugby league playing the famous New Zealand ‘All Golds’ who toured England. All up he represented QLD six times against NSW and in another 11 tour games and played one Test for Australia in 1909 against New Zealand, winning 10-5.

In 1909 Anderson played for Souths in the first ever QLD rugby league season, with Souths making the grand final before losing to Valleys.

10. Royce Ayliffe (Captain)
Honours: Dally M Captain of the Year 1980.
Years active: 1976 – 1985
Clubs: Eastern Suburbs, South Sydney
Club games: 162 (14 tries, ten goals)
Representative Career: Tests – 1. NSW – 4.

Royce Ayliffe was a tough front rower who captained Easts in 1980 to a grand final, losing to Canterbury.

Ayliffe played one Test against France in 1981, coming on from the bench. He also played three Origins in 1982 and played for NSW under the pre-Origin rules in 1981.

Ayliffe also played, scored a try and was man of the match in the first ever World Club Challenge in 1976, when St Helens came to Sydney and were thumped by the all-time great Easts team 25-2.

11. Vic Armbruster
Honours: ARL Hall of Fame.
Years active: 1921 – 1935
Clubs: Mullumbimby, Toowoomba (QLD), Grammars (QLD) Fortitude Valley (QLD), Bundaberg (QLD), Rochedale Hornets (UK)
All games: 238 (63 tries, 217 points)
Representative Career: Tests – 8. QLD – 41. NSW – 1.

Vic Armbruster was a standout second rower from NSW Country who moved to Toowoomba in QLD to be part of one of the great regional sides.


Along with his future Kangaroos captain Tom Gorman and state and national teammate Herb Steinohrt, Armbruster was a member of the 1924-25 world-class Toowoomba side that beat all-comers including Great Britain, New South Wales, Sydney premiers Souths, Brisbane, Ipswich and New Zealand.

A noted ball handler with the ability to slip a pass when surrounded by defenders, Armbruster played eight Tests for Australia, including all three Tests against England on the 1929-30 Kangaroo Tour.

He also played in eight interstate series for QLD against NSW during a successful era for the state, winning four of his first five.

Mick Fihelly (journalist) in 1935: “Vic Armbruster’s play left an impression that he is the greatest forward since Frank Burge”.

12. Ferris Ashton
Years active: 1950 – 1956
Clubs: Eastern Suburbs
Club games: 87 (20 tries)
Representative Career: Tests – 8. NSW – 3.
Nickname: Ferdie

Ferris Ashton was an Easts junior who graduated to play 87 games for the club including as captain-coach in 1954. After playing all three matches for NSW in their 1952 clean sweep over QLD, Ashton was selected for Australia.

He produced a sterling performance on debut against New Zealand in Australia’s 25-13 First Test win in Sydney (giving the final pass for three tries) and gained selection on the 1952-53 Kangaroo tour.

Ashton played in two Tests against Great Britain and all three Tests against France on that tour.


“We left on July 18, 1952 and got home on March 2, 1953,” Ashton said. “I went away as a father of an eight month old baby and he was 16 months when we got back.”

The Ashton-Collier Medal is awarded to the ‘man of the match’ on the annual Anzac Day clash between Sydney Roosters and St George Illawarra Dragons, and the medal is co-named in the honour of Ferris Ashton and Bill Collier.

“From early days I was the keenest of Eastern Suburbs fans. Many, many times I sat on the hill at the sports ground and SCG and watched Easts in their red, white and blue. When I look back now I’m very, very proud of the fact that I never played with another club. They were my club.”

Ashton also played first grade cricket as a wicket keeper with Waverley.

13. Jim Abercrombie
Years active: 1908 – 1913
Clubs: Western Suburbs
Club games: 20 (20 goals)
Representative Career: Tests – 2. NSW – 2.

Jim Abercrombie was one of the pioneers or Australian rugby league and is listed as Wests player number two.

He was already 28 with a career in rugby union behind him when he was one of the original players to join the fledgling competition, attending the founding meeting of the League in August 1907 and for the Wests club in February 1908.

In 1907 he represented NSW against the visiting New Zealand All Golds. In 1908 he kicked Wests first goal and was their first representative player, joining the 1908-09 Kangaroo Tour.


This was not without controversy (Controversy? In rugby league? Really?). He was made a member of the tour after being originally left out of the squad, but after a public outcry over his omission he was called in.

He played in two Tests and 30 tour matches of the long campaign.

Abercrombie is a member of the Western Suburbs Hall of Fame.

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14. Matt Adamson (Paramatta, Penrith, Leeds (UK), Canberra) – 1991 – 2005 – Tests: 5(SL), NSW: 3(1 SL)

Prop – Very tall Penrith stalwart.

15. George Ambrum (North Sydney, Bradford Northern (UK)) – 1966 – 1974 – Tests: 2.

Winger – Talented try scoring cult hero from Thursday Island.

16. Arthur ‘George’ Anlezark (Oldham (UK)) – 1908 – 1914 – Tests: 1. QLD – 4. Nickname: Snowy.

Five-eighth. Has the unusual honour of touring England with the first ever Rugby AU and rugby league teams. Stayed in England after the tour. He never played a club game in Australia, having been selected for QLD and Australia on the back of his rugby union prowess.

17. Neville ‘Ned’ Andrews (NSW Country) – 1946 – 1950 – Tests: 1, NSW: 1, QLD: 3.
Five-eighth. Newcastle, Coffs Harbour and North QLD legend.

Honourable mentions
Tommy Anderson – winger (1 Test), Gavin Allen – Prop (8 QLD), Jai Arrow – Lock (3 QLD).
And there you have the A Team.


Maybe not the strongest team but one that would give a decent account of itself.

Next time I will take on the very strong B Team.