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

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Roar Guru
8th March, 2019
54

What could possibly follow an act like the ridiculously strong B Team?

Well, obviously, the C Team. If the first name on the sheet plays to his potential, then this team will always be a red hot chance.

With eleven other Hall of Fame members, there is enough quality in this team to cause problems for anyone. Here is the list.

1. Clive Churchill (captain)
Honours: Rugby League Immortal, ARL Team of the Century, NSWRL Team of the Century, Australian Sports Hall of Fame, NSW Sports Hall of Fame, Member of the Order of Australia. Remembered in name by both the ‘Clive Churchill Stand’ at the SCG and the ‘Clive Churchill Medal’ given to the best player in each year’s grand final.
Years active: 1947 – 1959.
Clubs: South Sydney, Norths Brisbane (QLD).
All games: 317 (31 tries, 478 points).
Representative Career: Tests: 37. NSW: 27. QLD: 1.
Nickname: The Little Master.

Is he the greatest player in the history of Australian rugby league? Churchill certainly has claim to that mantle. In 1992, Rugby League Week named its top 100 players and Churchill was still number one.

Clive Churchill changed the way the fullback role was played, bringing an attacking flair to the role as a link sweeping into the backline. Prior to this, fullbacks typically had a defensive and kicking role. But Churchill could do it all – plus, he was considered the best front on tackler and a superb goal kicker.

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The honours bestowed on this man make a daunting list. In addition to those listed above, Churchill; won four premierships with Souths in Sydney and one with Norths in Brisbane, went on three Kangaroo Tours, captain-coaching the 1952/53 side, played 37 Tests for Australia (a record at the time), with 27 Tests as Australian captain (second only to Darren Lockyer).

At one point Churchill played in 99 straight representative matches (including tour matches).

As captain in 1950, he won the Ashes for Australia for the first time in 30 years and was also NSWRL player of the year three times.

Tales of his skill, courage and relentless will to win abound. The most famous tale is from August 1955 when, notwithstanding breaking a wrist in his first tackle of the match, Churchill played on for 75 minutes with the arm strapped in the covers of an exercise book.

Churchill kicked an after-the-bell sideline goal against Manly at Redfern to keep Souths alive in the premiership race that they later won. Less well known is that Churchill set up the try that he converted, for Les Cowie, broken arm and all.

But there were plenty others, including Churchill tearing Manly to pieces in Souths’ 1951 42-14 grand final victory, working a series of “scissor moves” from fullback with centre Johnny Graves, who scored four tries that day. To prove it was no fluke, Churchill dominated Newtown in the 1954 grand final, setting up three of the side’s five tries in their 23-15 win.

To those who think he did not have the attacking chops of modern custodians, here is a report from a match against St George in 1953:

“From a scrum on south’s 25-yard line, Churchill made the extra man, took the pass, spread-eagled the defence with a swerving run, sidestepped winger Ross Kite, changed direction, beat fullback Noel Pidding with a change of pace near half way and then raced for the line.

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“With the large crowd screaming in excitement … speedy winger Kite was after him like a greyhound chasing a startled rabbit … Five yards from the line Churchill was tackled but his momentum carried him over.”

Reports also talk of Churchill handling three times in long range attacking movements, making the extra man from fullback out wide and kicking off the inside of his boot for his centre supports to score. In defence he won man of the match in the 1955 first Test against France, saving three certain tries with desperate defence.

From reports at the time from those who saw him play Clive Churchill is indeed the greatest.

Tom Goodman, esteemed rugby league scribe, said; “Clive Churchill set the standard by which all the famous league players of his era and since will be judged.”

2. Brian Carlson
Honours: ARL Hall of Fame, NSW Sports Hall of Fame, Newcastle Team of the Century.
Years active: 1951 – 1962.
Clubs: Norths Newcastle, Souths Newcastle, Blackall (QLD) North Sydney.
All games: 185 (141 tries, 1,125 points).
Representative Career: Tests: 23. NSW: 10. QLD: 4.

Brian Carlson rates as one of the most talented and inventive backline players to represent Australia. He was equally at home on the wing or at fullback, with a fine step and swerve and a great kicking game.

He represented NSW Country, NSW and the Kangaroos from Newcastle in 1952. The 19-year-old winger played in Tests against Great Britain and France on the Kangaroo tour and topped the try-scoring list with 29 tries.

In 1954, a ruptured kidney injury almost ended his life (he was given last rites) and he spent over a year out of the game.

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Remarkably, he forced his way back into the Australian Test team in 1957. Carlson played fullback in the World Cup that year and was named player of the series after Australia’s historic victory.

Carlson then signed with North Sydney and played six years for the Bears. He captained Australia in two Tests.

3. Les Cubbit
Honours: ARL Hall of Fame.
Years active: 1911 – 1922.
Clubs: Glebe, Eastern Suburbs.
All games: 156 (125 tries, 14 goals).
Representative Career: Tests: 4. NSW: 14.

Les Cubitt was an electric centre or five-eighth, acknowledged as the best centre in the country in the post WWI years. After first rising to prominence for the Glebe Dirty Reds, where he played in the club’s losing 1911 grand final, Cubitt moved to Easts where he played five-eighth in the 1913 premiership side that only lost one game for the season.

After international games were suspended during the war, Cubitt was selected for Australia’s first ever tour of New Zealand in 1919, playing in all four Tests and scoring five tries.

He was made captain of the 1921-22 Kangaroos Tour, but suffered a serious knee injury, which not only prevented him playing any Tests on tour but effectively ended his career.

The great journalist Claude Corbett described Cubitt as “the brainiest footballer the league has had”.

4. Michael Cronin (Goalkicker)
Honours: ARL Hall of Fame, Order of Australia Medal, NSW Sports Hall of Fame, NSW Country Team of the Century, Rothmans Medal 1977 and 1978.
Years active: 1969 – 1986.
Clubs: Gerringong, Parramatta.
All games: 345 (111 tries, 3,007 points).
Representative Career: Tests: 33, NSW: 25.
Nickname: Crow.

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Michael Cronin was a great ball playing centre and a point scoring machine for club and country. Cronin played for his state and country from NSW Country for four seasons before being lured to Paramatta, where he was an integral part of the great Eels side that won three consecutive premierships from 1981 to 1983 and again in 1986 in an emotional farewell to the game.

Before joining Parramatta, Cronin played an important part in Country defeating City in 1975, along with other future stars Greg Brentnall and Terry Fahey.

At one time Cronin held the career point scoring records for both the Sydney competition and for Australia. He went on two Kangaroo Tours in the 1970’s and was top scorer both times.

In total, he scored 1,971 points for the Eels and another 201 for his country. His 282 points in the 1978 premiership was a competition record and in all matches that year (including tour and representative matches) Cronin scored 547 points in 58 matches.

During that year, Cronin kicked 26 goals in a row, another record at the time. In 1979 he also equalled the most points in an Ashes match (10 goals for 20 points).

Cronin was twice awarded the Rothmans Medal for player of the NSWRL competition, showing that he was much more than just a goal kicker, with a great ability to break tackles and set up his support players. The first win was in 1977, his first year in Sydney and he won by a record score and margin.

Cronin was also the man flattened by teammate Arthur Beetson in the first State of Origin to show that the competition really was ‘mate against mate’.

5. Jimmy Craig
Honours: ARL Hall of Fame. QRL Team of the Century. NSW Sports Hall of Fame.
Years active: 1915 – 1930.
Clubs: Balmain, University, Ipswich (QLD) Western Suburbs.
All games: 205 (68 tries, 827 points).
Representative Career: Tests: 7, QLD: 20, NSW: 4.

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Jimmy Craig was one of the most versatile players of his era, equally at home anywhere in the backline. He was a core member of the great Balmain side that won five premierships in six years from 1915 to 1920.

He spent a year with University in 1922 before moving to Queensland to play for Ipswich (Craig was no dummy and earned his qualifications as a dentist).

Against NSW, Craig won his first seven games straight from 1923 to 1925 and his overall record was seven series wins from eight attempts with 13 wins and only five losses. He also toured New Zealand in 1925 with the state and captained QLD from 1923 to 1925.

He returned to the Sydney competition in 1929 with Western Suburbs. Craig was the competition’s top points scorer for the next two seasons and in 1930 he led Wests to their first premiership after 22 years in the competition.

They smashed St George in the grand final 27-2, with the captain-coach Craig playing halfback, scoring a try and kicking two goals.

Craig played seven Tests for Australia, captaining them three times and he toured with the 1921/22 Kangaroos. He was once described by Dally Messenger as the greatest player he ever saw.

Latchem Robinson called him “the greatest all round player Australia has produced”.

J.C. Davis, writing in The Referee, said; “In a word Jimmy is a philosopher of the “rugger field”, a rare bird these times”.

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6. Brian Clay
Honours: ARL Hall of Fame.
Years active: 1953 – 1967.
Clubs: Newtown, St George.
All games: 288 (56 tries, 170 points).
Representative Career: Tests: 8, NSW: 7.
Nickname: Poppa.

Brian “Poppa” Clay was an integral part of the great St George machine, playing in eight of their record eleven premierships. Starting for the club as a lock forward, Clay had a reputation of being an extremely tough and durable player with bruising defence.

For example, in the 1957 grand final, he knocked Manly captain George Hunter unconscious five minutes before half time with a tackle describe as ‘severe’. Clay often saved his best defensive efforts for finals and was in some ways the rock that the team was built on.

In attack, he ran stampeding, battering charges like an extra forward and would then set the wider backs in motion with precise passes.

In addition to his record at St George, Clay also appeared in two losing grand final sides for Newtown where he first played between 1953 and 1955. His total of ten grand final appearances is bettered only by Norm Provan.

Clay appeared in the 1957 World Cup and also toured with the 1959/60 Kangaroos, playing all Test matches on tour. He played for NSW in 1957 and 1959.

Jack Gibson on Clay’s defence: “When Clay was on the left the inclination was to detour right”.

A little known fact about St George. Their nickname was originally ‘The Dragon Slayers’ but over time it was shortened to ‘The Dragons.’

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7. Cooper Cronk
Honours: Golden Boot 2016. Dally M Player of the Year 2013, 2016. Five time Dally M Halfback of the Year.
Years active: 2004-present.
Clubs: Melbourne, Sydney.
Club games (to 2018): 349 (97 tries, one goal, 20 field goals).
Representative Career: Tests: 38, QLD: 22.

Cooper Cronk has had a stellar career as part of the Melbourne Big Four, then Big Three, winning four premierships (two later stripped) while at the club. In total he has played over 340 matches at club level.

Cooper Cronk

Cooper Cronk. (Photo by Brendon Thorne/Getty Images)

Cronk also played a pivotal role in Queensland’s golden State of Origin run from 2010 to 2017.

An indication of how important Cronk was to this success was that the only series lost during that time was after Cronk suffered a broken arm and was unable to take his place.

Cronk also played a whopping 38 Tests for Australia, losing only four.

And then, in 2018 Cooper Cronk was purchased by the Roosters to bring them a premiership and he delivered. It is almost certain Cronk will join the Hall of Fame when eligible.

8. Petero Civoniceva
Honours: ARL Hall of Fame. Dally M Prop of the year 2008.
Years active: 1998 – 2014
Clubs: Brisbane Broncos, Penrith, Redcliffe (QLD)
All games: 401 (28 tries)
Representative Career: 45 (plus six for Fiji), QLD: 33.
Nickname: Roy and HG nicknames: “Petrol 70 cents a litre”, “Fridge and a freezer”, “Petero second-receiver”, “The Second Keel”, “The Rear Admiral”

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Petero Civoniceva has claims to being the most consistent and durable forward of all time over 300 NRL games (the first prop forward ever to do so), 51 Tests and 33 State of Origins, plus a couple of final years running around for Redcliffe.

And all in the toughest position on the field. He holds records for the most games played by a forward at State of Origin level and for Australia.

In one of my favourite ever rugby league quotes, tackling the big Fijian was once described (in the RLW players poll by some poor anonymous player) as like tackling a bag of spanners.

Civoniceva was the cornerstone upon which QLD built their State of Origin dynasty of the last decade and he was Queensland’s player of the year in 2008 and 2011.

Over the years, he formed formidable front row partnerships with Shane Webcke, Steven Price and Matt Scott.

Civoniceva also won two premierships with the Broncos and went on two Kangaroo Tours.

Wayne Bennett: “Petero Civoniceva makes the grand final of the toughest players I have coached. No one ever wanted to get tackled by him.”

9. Greg Conescu
Honours: Norths Brisbane Team of the Century.
Years active: 1980 – 1989.
Clubs: Norths (QLD), Gladstone (QLD), Redcliffe (QLD), Brisbane Broncos.
Club games: 79 (Excludes Norths and Gladstone) (12 tries).
Representative Career: Tests: 9, QLD: 21.
Nickname: Turtle.

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Greg Conescu was the first great Queensland hooker of the Origin era. He made his state debut in 1980 in a non-Origin encounter and went on to play for QLD for the next eight years, during the state’s first sustained period of success. He was the Maroons’ player of the series in 1987.

Conescu never moved to Sydney prior to Brisbane entering the competition, instead winning the 1980 premiership with a young Norths team featuring Mark Graham, Mark Murray and coached by Graham Lowe. He then moved to Redcliffe to form an All Australian representative front row with Dave Brown and Brian Neibling.

Conescu toured with the 1982 Kangaroos as back up hooker to Max Krilich but cemented his place as the country’s first choice hooker in 1984, the last player to be picked while not playing for a major team (Gladstone Brothers).

He was one of the founding players for the Brisbane Broncos in 1988 and regained his national spot for all four Tests that year.

10. Ed “Tedda” Courtney
Honours: ARL Hall of Fame. Western Suburbs Team of the Century.
Years active: 1947 – 1959.
Clubs: Newtown, Western Suburbs, North Sydney.
All games: 320 (75 tries).
Representative Career: Tests: 13, NSW: 41.
Nickname: Tedda.

Tedda Courtney was one of the pioneers of rugby league and was a Western Suburbs stalwart. Courtney had already been playing rugby union for four years and had played in the first rugby league match (for NSW against the New Zealand All Golds in 1907) when he joined Newtown for the first rugby league season in 1908.

He was to be the last of the 1908 players to still be active 16 years later.

A wharfie throughout his working life, Courtney was renowned for his fearless tackling style and ability to harass the opposition with his defence.

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He was selected on the inaugural Kangaroo tour of 1908-09 appearing in all three Tests and being the top-scoring forward for the tour with ten tries. He made a second Kangaroo tour in 1911-12 when Australia won the Ashes for the first time.

On the 1911 Kangaroo Tour, Dally Messenger recalled, “Tedda Courtney became the most popular player in England, because of his almost miraculous forward play.” Courtney went on to play for Australia for eleven years.

From the 1911 tour, it is told of ‘Tedda’ Courtney that he had a couple of ribs broken at Leeds. He was treated in the dressing room. A couple of minutes later he was missing. Frantic search showed him to be back on the field ‘in case he was needed’.

Courtney was at the Western Suburbs Magpies from 1909 and then 1911-1924 and is the only player to play with his son in First Grade. Tedda Jnr played with his father in the Front Row in 1924. After 20 seasons in First Grade (Union plus League) Courtney finally retired aged 44, the second oldest player ever in the Sydney competition.

As an indication of his standing in the game, Daily Messenger in 1940 nominated Courtney alongside Frank Burge as two forwards he would most want to play alongside.

11. Arthur Clues
Honours: ARL Hall of Fame.
Years active: 1943 – 1957
Clubs: Western Suburbs, Leeds (UK), Hunslet (UK)
All games: 403 (110 tries, 334 points)
Representative Career: Tests: 3, NSW: 7, Other Nationalities: 14.

Arthur Clues is considered by many to be the greatest second row forward the game has produced. Like many players of the immediate post war era, he played much of his career in England, becoming a legend for Leeds.

Clues played four seasons for Western Suburbs and managed three games for Australia in 1946 before being one of the first players to move to England after the war. Clues was sent off in his last Test for throwing a punch at his opposing number which missed by a foot. He later said he deserved to be sent off for missing!

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In England Clues played eight years for Leeds and was widely considered the best forward in the country. He was as rough as they come but also possessed a surprising turn of speed and side-step for a big man. He played fourteen times for the very strong Other Nationalities side that regularly played against England, Wales and France during that era.

He never returned to Australia, opening a sports shop in Leeds.

A keen cricketer, Clues is perhaps unique in having scored a try and a century at the famous Headingly grounds.

One of the hardest players ever to take the field, during an era when the game was at its toughest, Clue was the enforcer in the Leeds pack.

A quick story to highlight changes in our game since that era; in 1947 against Halifax, Clues was punched in the first scrum of the match. Although no penalty was awarded the referee said to Clues “I saw what happened Arthur, you’ve got one free.”

Clues went on to knock his assailant out in the second half and the referee ran over and started wagging his finger in Clues’ face. But the ref said “The crowd think I’m bollocking you, but I’m not. He bloody deserved it. Now get on with the game!”.

12. Bradley Clyde
Honours: ARL Hall of Fame. Dally M Lock of the Year 1989, 1990. Clive Churchill Medal 1989, 1991.
Years active: 1988 – 2001
Clubs: Canberra, Canterbury, Leeds (UK).
All games: 290 (75 tries)
Representative Career: Tests: 21 (2SL), NSW: 14 (2SL).

Bradley Clyde was considered the best lock forward in the game at the peak of his career and formed part of the legendary “Green Machine” Canberra side of the late 1980 to early 1990’s that won three premierships (Clyde appearing in two of them).

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Clyde was name man of the series in his debut tour of New Zealand in 1989, in only his second year of top grade football. He was again named player of the series when Great Britain toured Australia in 1992.

A brilliant defender with an unmatched work rate, Clyde is one of only two players to have won the Clive Churchill Medal for player of the grand final twice, and one of only three to win the medal from the losing side (the award being judged fifteen minutes before full time).

Clyde was in good form in the early part of the 1999 season and was chosen in the NSW team for the first time in five years. In a highly publicised incident, Clyde and Blues’ teammate Robbie Kearns were thrown from horses and injured during a ‘team bonding’ session. Clyde missed the series and never played another representative match.

13. Ron Coote
Honours: rugby league Immortal nomination 2018, ARL Hall of Fame, ARL Team of the Century, NSWRL Team of the Century, Australian Sports Hall of Fame, NSW Sports Hall of Fame, NSWRL Player of the Year 1969-70, 1975, 1977.
Years active: 1964 – 1978.
Clubs: South Sydney, Eastern Suburbs.
All games: 381 (132 tries).
Representative Career: Tests: 23, NSW: 15.
Nickname: Solid, The Prince of Locks.

Ron Coote holds the distinction of being a club legend at two foundation clubs, He won multiple premierships at both Souths (four) and Easts (two) and was an integral part of winning eras at both clubs.

He was the first player to play 100 premierships games for two different clubs. The clubs play for the Ron Coote Cup each year. Playing a total of nine grand finals to win six makes Coote one of the most successful players in history.

Widely considered second only to John Raper as a lock forward, Coote was a powerful runner and supreme cover defender. As an international, he went on the 1967-68 Kangaroo Tour, scoring a vital individual try in the deciding match, and captained his country on three occasions (winning a World Cup).

Coote had the distinction of scoring a try in every match of the 1968 World Cup. He also won the player of the series against Great Britain in 1970 and again in 1974. If not for injuries and business commitments robbing him of three representative years in between his record would be even better.

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Ron Coote is also the founder of the Men of League organisation.

Jack Gibson said; “In his time I can’t think of any forward a coach or player would rather be out there with.”

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Interchange

14. Billy Cann (South Sydney)
1907 – 1917 – Tests: 12, NSW: 9.

Lock. Hall of Fame Inductee No. 1. Ideal bench player, covering from wing to second row.

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15. Harold “Mick” Crocker (Souths (QLD), Parramatta)
1949 – 1955 – Tests: 17, QLD: 19, NSW: 3.

Lock / Second row. Tough Queenslander. He set up the try, scored by Ron Roberts, that won the 1950 series against Great Britain, giving Australia the Ashes for the first time in 30 years.

16. Lionel Cooper (Eastern Suburbs, Huddersfield (UK))
1945 – 1955 – Tests: 3, Other Nationalities 14, NSW: 4.

Wing. Superstar of the English competition. 434 career tries.

17. Boyd Cordner (Sydney)
2011-present – Tests: 16, NSW: 12.

Second row – Tireless worker and captain of the dynasty breaking NSW team and 2018 Roosters premiership winners.

Honourable mentions
Larry Corowa “The Black Flash” (wing – two Tests), Mick Crocker (second row – six Tests), Chris “Choppy” Close (centre – three Tests), Michael Cleary (wing – eight Tests), Robert Craig (second row – seven Tests), Mark “Spud” Carroll (prop – nine Tests), John Cartwright (second row – seven Tests), Noel “Crusher” Cleal (second row – eight Tests), Dally Cherry-Evans (halfback – 11 Tests).

And there you have the C Team. A super back row, as evidenced by the quality in that position on the bench or left out entirely. This is a strong side with a heck of a forward pack.

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They are in the conversation.

Next time we look at the D’s, a slightly tougher team to fill.