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The Roar


Top ten rugby players I would love to see in the NRL

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Roar Guru
20th March, 2019

With the subject of NRL expansion a major talking point once again, many experts are questioning whether there is enough playing talent to fill another two to four NRL teams without significantly decreasing the overall quality of the competition.

To me the answer is obvious: just poach them from rugby.

In the interest of full disclosure, yes I am predominantly a league fan, although I do watching rugby on delay, as I am able to skip through all of the multiple-minute scrum breaks.

Scrums aside, I can certainly appreciate a great rugby player, as the skills on display are usually very similar to those displayed in league.

This is why I say the NRL should look to rugby to increase player depth. I mean there are so many players – far more than in league!

And they’re all from all over the place! Let’s get some Saffas in the NRL. Or why not some Argentineans or Italians who don’t even speak English? Wouldn’t that be hilarious?

NRL teams have a $9.6 million salary cap for 30 players. The best-paid players in Super Rugby earn roughly the same as the top paid NRL players (of course it’s more in French and Japanese rugby, but only for a handful of players).

Money is really not an issue.

This got me thinking, which players in world rugby would I like to see play in the NRL? So I have compiled a top-ten wish list, and this is part one.


Damian McKenzie
This fleet-footed speedster would absolutely kill it in league. For those who are unfamiliar, think Matt Dufty’s speed, combined with Darius Boyd’s ball playing and Anthony Minichiello’s skill under the high ball, plus he’s quite the sharpshooter off the tee.

He’s played fullback, flyhalf and wing in rugby. But weighing just 78kg, you’d probably try limit him to fullback in league as one doesn’t really want a man that slight defending in the front line.

But my word does he love broken play running. He’s extremely dangerous off kick-returns in the 15-man game. Imagine the danger in league with two less players on the field. Scary stuff!

Ma’a Nonu
I know he’s 36 and well past his prime, but I’ve fantasised about Ma’a Nonu in league for many years. On more than one occasion throughout his storied career, Nonu seriously considered switching to league.

At one point he actually signed a contract with Wests Tigers, but changed his mind and never returned a signed copy to then Tigers’ coach Tim Sheens.

Ma'a Nonu

Ma’a Nonu of the Blues looks on during the round 1 Super Rugby match between the Blues and the Crusaders at Eden Park on February 16, 2019 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images)

He also toured the Canterbury Bulldogs’ facilities and met with then coach Des Hasler in late 2012. Had he signed for Canterbury, it would have set up a mouth-watering showdown in Round 1 of 2013 with former teammate Sonny Bill Williams, who was at the Roosters at the time.

Alas, it wasn’t to be and both won World Cups with the All Blacks, combining for a try in the 2015 final.


Nonu likely would have played centre in league in his younger days. If he were to switch now he’d play in the forwards. He’d make a great edge back-rower – imagine sending him running at opposition halves close to the try line – or possibly even lock given his ability to move through traffic and offload the ball in midfield.

It’ll probably never happen now, but he would’ve been a dead set champion in league, as he was/is in rugby.

Aaron Smith
If Aaron Smith played league he would not only be the best dummy-half in the game, he would also be the best Smith in the game. You think Cameron has a great passing game off the floor? Aaron throws them like bullets every single time, with pinpoint accuracy.

His halves would be getting the ball so quickly on the fifth tackle that they would never be kicking under pressure when coming out of trouble – this would be a huge advantage to whichever team he played in.

His speed off the mark would make him quite the threat as a dummy-half runner – something he doesn’t get to do much in rugby due to the lack of space around the ruck. But in league he would excel in that department, having a similar impact to that of Damien Cook.


Finally, his kicking game and general-play passing would make him equally adept at playing in the halves. However, as the best passer off the floor in either code, he would be wasted playing anywhere but hooker in league.

George North
This big Welshman is an absolute beast, and would be a sensation in the NRL. He’s 6’4 and 109kg – that’s Corey Oates plus 5kg – and is extremely quick and agile for such a big man.

He’s the prototype for the modern-day NRL winger. That’s big, fast and good under the high ball. He would make monster metres in getting his side out of trouble (as all good wingers should) and as he’s shown in rugby, he has no trouble finding the try line under pressure.

At the age of 26, there’s still plenty of time for him to make the switch. If given some time to learn the defensive nuances of being a rugby league winger, he could be the best winger in the game.

George North scores another Lions try. (Photo: Paul Barkley/LookPro)

Should George North head south? (Photo: Paul Barkley/LookPro)

Shannon Frizell
Yes, that’s Frizell as in the brother of Dragons’, Blues’ and Kangaroos’ back rower Tyson.

Shannon and Tyson both weigh 108kg, but Shannon is 6’5 while Tyson is only 6’. There are few in this world who make Tyson Frizell look small, but his little (in age only) brother Shannon is certainly one of them.

The younger Frizell’s rise to prominence was quite rapid. He made his Super Rugby debut for the Highlanders only last year, and such was his impact that he was catapulted into the All Blacks in June the same year after just one season of Super Rugby under his belt.


He’s quite the prolific try-scorer too for a forward, crossing the line nine times in just 18 Super Rugby games, as well as once in four appearances for the All Blacks.

In league, Frizell could play anywhere in the forwards. Middle or edge, front or back row. It doesn’t matter – he’ll leave a path of destruction in his wake wherever he plays. It would be a pleasure to see him play lock – I can see him having a Jason Taumalolo-like impact on games in that position.

That’s part one of my list done and dusted. Part two will be on the way shortly, but in the mean time I would love to know which rugby players – past or present – you all would have loved to see play rugby league!