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

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Roar Guru
24th March, 2019
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For the next instalment in my series on the Mythical Alphabet Cup we visit the F Team.

This team has an outstanding back line, including two of the best players of the last 50 years, and they also have plenty of forward quality and depth.

1. Charles ‘Chook’ Fraser
Honours: ARL Hall of Fame.
Years active: 1910 to 1926.
Clubs: Balmain.
Club games: 277 (70 tries, 197 goals).
Representative career: Tests 11, NSW 5.
Nickname: Chook.

Charles ‘Chook’ Fraser was one of the most successful players of all time, featuring in six premierships during Balmain’s golden period from 1915 to 1924, including two undefeated seasons in 1915 and 1916.

He played 190 first-grade games for the club which was only matched by Keith Barnes, another champion fullback, 40 years later.

During his club career he was the competition’s top point scorer for 1916 and 1917. He captained his club to the 1924 premiership, his sixth.

After leaving Balmain, Fraser captained Gundagai to a Maher Cup victory in 1927.

Fraser was only five foot four but had wonderful evasive skills, possibly due to an early grounding in Australian rules.

He was also very versatile, playing fullback, wing, centre and five-eighth for Australia.

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Fraser also went on two Kangaroo tours and captained his country three times. His first tour was at age 18 after only 15 first-grade games.

He was the youngest player to play for Australia until Brad Fittler almost 80 years later.

He also played in the 1920 series in which the Australians won the Ashes for the first time on home soil.

Norm “Latchem” Robinson said: “A phenomenal footballer, equally at home in any position in the backs”.

2. Dan Frawley
Honours: ARL Hall of Fame.
Years active: 1908 to 1915.
Clubs: Eastern Suburbs, Warrington (UK).
All games: 165 (143 tries, 63 goals).
Representative career: Tests 7, NSW 13.

Dan Frawley was a wing sensation at the beginnings of the code in Australia. A brilliant and agile runner with one of the great sidesteps, Frawley was a try-scoring machine during Easts’ first great period when they won three premierships in a row from 1911 to 1913.

Frawley formed a lethal combination with Dally Messenger with many tries coming from kicks or passes from the Master.

Frawley went on the first two Kangaroo tours, and was proclaimed the 100 yards sprint champion of the 1908-09 team.

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He scored two tries and kicked two goals in the deciding match of the 1911-12 tour, when Australia won the Ashes for the first time.

Over his international career Frawley scored four tries in seven different Tests and scored 43 tries for NSW in 26 games against all comers.

Dan’s advice to young footballers in Rugby League News in 1939 seems pretty reasonable: “I would like first of all to say to any young fellow that wishes to play rugby league football that size does not count, he doesn’t have to be a big hefty fellow to succeed. Of course, I am referring to players in the back division.

“Most of them [famous back-line players] learned how to become footballers by playing ‘cocky lorum’ in the streets around Surry Hills, Woolloomooloo, North Sydney and Newtown and it was good training, because they had to learn to sidestep while running at top speed: if they didn’t they found themselves hitting the blue metal road – and pretty hard at that.

“Don’t let them tell you that you have to be a mountain of intelligence to be a good footballer, either, for some of the world’s greatest footballers had everything that it takes up to the chin, but were solid ivory from there up.

“Don’t forget that physical fitness is the chief factor – just a matter of conscientious training. The footballer of today won’t go through the hard grind that was looked upon as essential in my days. I have trained months before the season started, yet I have heard some of the players of today grumble because they have to train two nights a week.

“Night after night, I have gone out to the training ground with a pair of running shoes on and a football under my arm, going at top speed, beating imaginary opponents.”

3. Viv Farnsworth
Honours: ARL Hall of Fame.
Years active: 1910 to 1921.
Clubs: Newtown, Oldham (UK), Western Suburbs.
All games: 175 (79 tries).
Representative career: Tests 8, NSW 9.

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Viv Farnsworth, along with brother Bill, hold the distinction of being the first brothers to represent Australia in rugby league.

Viv was a member of the 1910 Newton premiership team and toured with the 1911-12 Kangaroos, the first Australian side to win the Ashes.

Farnsworth’s zippy footwork, creative ball play and bruising defence at centre brought him 19 tries from 29 matches on tour including a double in the first Test.

To show you how much the game has changed, Viv switched from rugby union in 1909 and made his rugby league debut in the third Kangaroos vs Wallabies match that year, playing league for the Wallabies!

A note on the mostly forgotten Wallabies vs Kangaroos series in 1909. Four matches were played with each side winning two each.

The Wallabies were captained by Chris McKivat, who went on to also captain the Kangaroos. Dally Messenger was captain for the Kangaroos.

Note that all the Wallabies were paid to play and were subsequently banned for life by the NSWRU. Most, therefore, found their way into rugby league, which strengthened the fledgling competition significantly.

Farnsworth’s play for Newtown in their premiership year, including three tries on debut, saw him selected for NSW and the Kangaroos over the next few years.

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Farnsworth only lost a single game while playing for NSW or Australia.

After the Kangaroo tour, Farnsworth joined Oldham in the English competition.

He enlisted in the First World War but afterwards returned to Australia. He then played in Australia’s victorious 1920 series against Great Britain. Tragically an injury in the third Test finished his career.

Johnny Quinlan, Kangaroos Manager (1911-12) said: “He was equally brilliant in attack and defence, and was one of the most punishing tacklers I have ever seen.”

4. Brad Fittler
Honours: ARL Hall of Fame. Dally M Centre of the Year 1992 and 1993. Dally M Lock of the Year 1994. Dally M Five-Eighth of the Year 1998, 1999 and 2002. Golden Boot 2000. NSW Sports Hall of Fame.
Years active: 1989 to 2004.
Clubs: Penrith, Sydney Roosters.
All games: 448 (166 tries, 709 points).
Representative career: Tests 38, NSW 31.
Nickname: Freddy. Roy & HG nickname: Captain in a Cab.

The great ‘Freddy’ Fittler was one of the most naturally talented players to ever play the game.

He burst onto the scene as a 17-year-old schoolboy centre at Penrith, blessed with an unforgettable sidestep and brilliant all-round running game.

At just 18 years old, he became the youngest player to represent NSW in State of Origin and the youngest Kangaroo tourist.

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He played in six matches for NSW, four Tests, 13 tour games, a World Cup final and won a premiership all before his 21st birthday.

And he also came back in 2004 to lead the Blues to victory as a 32 year-old.

Over the years he transformed himself into a creative lock forward and then a super game-manager and leader at five-eighth.

Definitely a player who should come into Immortal calculations at some point, Fittler – in competition with Laurie Daley – inherited the mantle of the world’s best pivot from Wally Lewis and carried it for the next decade.

NSW State of Origin coach Brad Fittler

(AAP Image/Julian Smith)

But his versatility saw him named the competition’s best player at centre, five-eighth and lock over the course of his career.

Fittler’s many achievements include five grand finals for two premierships – one each with Penrith and Easts – plus seven State of Origin series wins, three Kangaroo tours and 25 Tests as Australian captain, including leading a weakened Kangaroos team on a victorious 1995 World Cup campaign during the Super League war.

In 2014, a 42 year-old Fittler played in the Auckland Nines tournament ten years after his retirement and managed a 75-metre intercept try.

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“One thing that has never changed is I really like the game, I care about it and I think about it a lot,” Fittler said. “That has never changed. It’s been my whole life really.”

5. Dennis Flannery
Honours: QRL Team of the Century. Nominated for ARL Hall of Fame 2018. Queensland Sports Hall of Fame.
Years active: 1947 to 1958.
Clubs: Brothers Ipswich (QLD).
Representative career: Tests 15, Queensland 27.
Nickname: Flag Pole.

Dennis Flannery holds the dubious distinction of being named in Queensland’s Rugby League Team of the Century but has not been included in the ARL Hall of Fame, although he was nominated in 2018.

Flannery was a speedy winger with a great sidestep and swerve. He was a schoolboy sprint champion who was a mainstay of the national side in the 1950s, including two Kangaroo tours.

On the 1952-53 Kangaroo tour, he scored 23 tries in 14 games, including hat tricks against Featherstone Rovers, Doncaster and Hull Kingston Rovers.

Flannery played in the 1954 World Cup, including some exhibition matches in the United States on the way home.

Unfortunately, heavy fog forced one to be abandoned but so thick was it that winger Flannery remained on the field for ten minutes before he realized the others had retired to the dressing room!

Flannery played 27 games for Queensland and was a member of the 1951 side that defeated NSW, scoring two tries in the deciding match.

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He played his entire club career with Brothers in Ipswich, winning premierships in 1956 and 1958.

At 24 tries, Flannery was the second highest try-scorer in the Bulimba Cup, the annual representative competition held between Brisbane, Ipswich and Toowoomba. Ipswich won in 1957 and 1958, while Flannery was in the side.

Flannery forged a brilliant career despite having lost the sight in one eye after being poked by a pair of scissors while his mother was sewing.

The great Noel Kelly said: “Dennis was a big lad and I once saw him hurdle his opposite winger. I thought to myself, ‘How do you do that?’.”

6. Bob Fulton (captain)
Honours: Rugby League Immortal. ARL Team of the Century. NSWRL Team of the Century. ARL Hall of Fame. NSWRL Player of the Year 1974 and 1975. Australian Sports Hall of Fame. NSW Sports Hall of Fame. Member of the Order of Australia.
Years active: 1966 to 1979.
Clubs: Manly, Warrington (UK), Eastern Suburbs.
All games: 428 (259 tries, 961 points).
Representative career: Tests: 35, NSW: 16.
Nickname: Bozo.

The great Brad Fittler can only find a place in the centres due to the brilliance of the Immortal Bob Fulton.

Fulton was one of the original Immortals and was considered an automatic choice, despite having retired only two years previously.

He was probably the greatest player of the 1970s and was the driving force behind the great Manly-Warringah side of the era, winning three premierships and appearing in two other grand finals with the club.

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In all he scored 129 tries for the club over ten years, including being the premiership’s top try-scorer in 1972.

At the time of his retirement his 147 career tries for Manly and Easts was behind only Ken Irvine and Harold Horder.

In addition, Fulton kicked 58 career field goals, the second most in history.

Considered a brilliant, unorthodox player, equally at home at five-eighth and centre, Fulton could produce something out of nothing in the toughest circumstances, as his man of the match two-try performance in the 1973 grand final win over Cronulla demonstrated.

It was possibly the most influential performance in a grand final.

Fulton stood out as a leader from a young age, being selected as captain-coach for City against Country in 1968 and captaining his club Manly in a grand final that same year, becoming the youngest player ever to do so at just 20.

It was his professionalism and leadership, as much as his anticipation and acceleration, that made Fulton stand apart.

Fulton was first selected for Australia for the 1970 World Cup and went on to play 35 Tests for his country, scoring 25 tries.

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Fulton went on two Kangaroo tours, one as captain, and participated in four World Cups, being named Man of the Series in the 1970 edition.

During his career Australia only lost two series: the 1972 World Cup and the 1978 tour to France.

He was the leading try-scorer on both the 1973 and 1978 Kangaroo Tours.

Rex Mossop, nominating his best-ever Sea Eagles player, said: “Bob Fulton without a doubt. He was a special player, one who always played to the very limit of his ability.

“He was tough, he was competitive, he could defend as well as attack. He was good at everything he did. I’d have no hesitation in putting him in my top five players ever.”

7. Keith Froome
Honours: 1949 NSWRL Sun Herald Player of the Year. Newtown Team of the Century.
Years active: 1941 to 1950.
Clubs: Newcastle Wests, Newtown.
Club games: 72 (Newtown) (16 tries, 120 goals),
Representative career: Tests 8, NSW 7.

This was a tight one, with 1992 Dally M Player of the Year Gary Freeman right in the mix.

But in the end the halfback position goes to the Newtown half, Keith Froome.

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If not for World War Two, Froome would likely have added more Tests to his eight appearances between 1948 and 1950.

After representing NSW from Newcastle in 1941, Froome served in the AIF and did not play for his state again until 1946.

In 1948 Froome was selected for Australia against New Zealand and he went on the Kangaroo tour later that year.

In 1949 he was named inaugural Sun Herald Player of the Year and was selected as Australian captain-coach on the tour of NZ at the end of the year.

Froome played a couple of games for Newtown during their 1943 premiership-winning season while serving in the armed forces.

He subsequently played for the Bluebags from 1946 to 1950, when the club finished third in four out of five seasons, but never reached a grand final.

Bruce Hopkins, another tourist in 1948, said: “In France, we saw many live shows, and this gave us an idea for the long trip home.

“Three of us: myself, Keith Froome and Wally O’Connell, decided to do an act on the ship miming Bing Crosby and The Andrews Sisters.

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“When we arrived home, our act was so popular, we were hired by the Celebrity Club and the Tivoli Theatre to perform twice a week. We earned more money than we ever did playing football!”

They were in fact earning 50 pounds per week from each theatre when the average wage was around 6 pounds a week.

8. Frank Farrell
Honours: Captain of Newtown Team of the Century.
Years active: 1938 to 1951.
Clubs: Newtown.
Club games: 204 (24 tries).
Representative career: Tests 4, NSW 17.
Nickname: Bumper.

Newtown’s favourite son, Frank ‘Bumper’ Farrell, was a tough-as-teak, larger-than-life front-rower.

A regular NSW representative between 1939 and 1950, Farrell first represented Australia in three Tests against Great Britain in 1946 and made one further appearance against NZ in 1948.

Unusually, Farrell never played in a winning Australian side.

Farrell captained Newtown to a grand final victory in 1943, and a controversial defeat by Balmain the following year.

He was implicated in an infamous biting incident involving St George’s Bill McRitchie in 1945. Farrell was exonerated after stating that he had left his teeth in jar in the dressing room!

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Farrell was captain-coach of Newtown from 1946 to 1951 and when he retired, he had become the first to play over 250 grade games for a Sydney club and was the only Newtown player to ever to register 200 first-grade games.

Larry Writer, author of Frank Farrell’s biography, wrote: “Someone made the mistake one day, long after Bumper had retired from football, of claiming he was weak in cover defence.

“This infuriated Bumper, who after a few more drinks, went outside the leagues club and threw himself into a ferocious tackle on a luckless draught horse that just happened to be nearby.”

9. Robbie Farah
Honours: Dally M Hooker of the Year 2007 and 2010.
Years active: 2003 to present.
Clubs: Wests Tigers, South Sydney.
Club games (to 2018): 283 (64 tries, 12 goals, 16 field goals).
Representative career: Tests 8, NSW 16.
Nickname: Faf.

Robbie Farah has been an institution for the Wests Tigers for most of his 15-year career.

A skilful dummy half with a high work rate, Farah was one of the key players in the club’s historic 2005 premiership during his first full season in first grade.

He has since played over 250 games for the Tigers, which is a club record. This included a run from 2008 to 2011 where Farah played every game each season.

The Tigers' Robbie Farah in action during the Round 19 NRL match against the Rabbitohs.

(AAP Image/Mick Tsikas)

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Farah has also been a long-term player for NSW, being selected for almost every game from 2012 to 2016, including the 2014 series where NSW broke Queensland’s run of series victories.

In 2012 Farah was awarded the Brad Fittler Medal for NSW player of the series. Despite being somewhat overshadowed by Cameron Smith during his career, Farah still represented Australia eight times between 2009 and 2014.

On returning to the Tigers in 2018, Farah said: “I grew up playing as a local junior and I always thought I would be a one-club player.

“Obviously it didn’t pan out that way but I’m just really happy to be back. It’s a place I never wanted to leave and it’s a place I love so much.”

10. Andrew Fifita
Honours: Dally M Prop of the Year 2013. Cronulla Team of the Half Century.
Years active: 2010 to present.
Clubs: Wests Tigers, Cronulla.
Club games (to 2018): 191 (36 tries).
Representative career: Tests 7 (plus 6 for Tonga), NSW 10.

Andrew Fifita is a polarising figure, but there is no denying his impact on a football game when the mood takes him.

A powerful runner who also possesses a quality offload, Fifita has stamped himself as one of the game’s premier impact forwards.

After spending two years with Wests Tigers, Fifita joined Cronulla and formed part of a devastating forward pack including Paul Gallen and Luke Lewis. Fifita was the dominant player on the field when the Sharks finally broke through for their maiden NRL premiership in 2016.

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Fifita was selected for Australia for the 2013 World Cup and played six games off the bench, including the final won in dominant fashion over New Zealand, 34-2.

After playing in the starting side for the 2017 Anzac Test, Fifita changed allegiances to represent Tonga in the 2018 World Cup.

Joining another high-profile recruit Jason Taumalolo, the team made the semi-finals before losing to England by only two points.

Fifita has also played ten games for NSW, including a man-of-the-match performance in the first match of 2017.

11. Steve Folkes
Honours: Berries to Bulldogs 70 Year Team of Champions.
Years active: 1978 to 1991.
Clubs: Canterbury, Hull FC (UK).
Club games: 269 (52 tries).
Representative career: Tests 5, NSW 9.

Steve Folkes was a rock in the second-row for Canterbury during a golden period for the club, appearing in four premiership-winning teams over nearly a decade.

Folkes was the first Bulldog to make 300 appearances across all grades for the club. He was an extremely fit player and hard hitter in defence, but he also had surprising skills, having started his career as a halfback.

Folkes debuted for NSW in 1986 and was in the second row for every game in the historic three-nil State of Origin whitewash that year. He went on to also play all games in the 1987 and 1988 series.

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Folkes was first selected for the Australian team in the 1986 series against New Zealand, scoring a try on debut. He was then selected for the 1986 Kangaroo tour, where he played in the second Test against France.

Terry Lamb said: “He was a fitness fanatic, people loved him, I don’t think there’s too many people who spoke badly about Steve Folkes. Tough on the field, he epitomised what the club was.”

12. Bryan Fletcher
Years active: 1997 to 2007.
Clubs: Sydney Roosters, South Sydney, Wigan (UK).
Club games: 235 (49 tries).
Representative career: Tests 13, NSW 14.
Nickname: Fletch. Roy and HG nickname: Old Man River.

For all the ‘Fletch and Hindy’ nonsense and the hand grenade celebration in 2000, Bryan Fletcher was actually a very good footballer.

Fletcher made his debut for Australia in 1999 after only 24 games for the Roosters and for the next three years he was a fixture in the NSW and Australian teams.

This included the 2000 State of Origin whitewash, the 1999 tri-series victory and the 2000 World Cup.

Australia won 12 of 13 Tests with Fletcher in the team.

After six years at the Roosters, including the 2002 premiership win, Fletcher moved to captain Souths for a further three years, where he was awarded the club’s best and fairest in 2003, before finishing his career with Wigan in the English competition.

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13. Craig Fitzgibbon (goal-kicker)
Years active: 1998 to 2011.
Clubs: Illawarra, St George Illawarra, Sydney Roosters, Hull FC (UK).
Club games: 308 (52 tries, 736 goals).
Representative career: Tests 18, NSW 11.
Roy and HG nickname: Raw Bones.

Craig Fitzgibbon was a hard working goal-kicking second-rower.

He started his career at Illawarra before making his name at the Sydney Roosters.

Fitzgibbon has the rare distinction of scoring in two grand finals in a row for two different clubs in 1999 and 2000, and losing both games.

All that changed in the Roosters’ 2002 grand final win, when Fitzgibbon was awarded the Clive Churchill medal for best on ground.

He debuted for Australia later that year.

Craig Fitzgibbon runs with the ball

(Robb Cox/Action Photographics)

Fitzgibbon was a fixture in the Australian side for the next three years and was often the first choice goal-kicker. He once kicked eleven goals from as many attempts in a tour match against Wales.

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Fitzgibbon played in the Ashes in 2003 and the Tri-Series in 2004 and again in 2005. After three years, Fitzgibbon was recalled to the Australian team for the 2008 World Cup.

For NSW, Fitzgibbon played in the 2003 to 2005 series, all won by NSW. He won the player of the series in 2004. He returned as a front-rower in the 2008 series, won by Queensland.

At club level, Fitzgibbon scored over 1600 points in his career, making him the second-highest scoring forward in history, behind only Cameron Smith.

On being recalled to State of Origin after a three year absence, Fitzgibbon said: “As draining as the Origin experience can be it’s just such a wonderful experience and I count myself bloody fortunate to have had another crack at it.”

Bench

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14. Gary Freeman
Northcote Tigers (NZ), Castleford (UK), Balmain, Eastern Suburbs, Penrith, Parramatta) – 1981 to 1996. Tests 46 (NZ). Nickname: Whizz.

This halfback could easily have made the run on side. A great competitor and Dally M Player of the Year in 1992 after being dropped to reserve grade the previous year by coach and shock jock Alan Jones.

15. Wally Fullerton-Smith
Redcliffe (QLD), Tonneins (France), Leeds (UK), St George) – 1981 to 1992. Tests 8, Queensland 12. Nickname: Gator.

Second row. Brutal defender and Origin mainstay.

16. David Fairleigh
North Sydney, Newcastle, St Helens (UK) – 1989 to 2001. Tests 3 NSW 10.

Second row or prop. Talented Norths stalwart.

17. Olsen Filipaina
Balmain, Eastern Suburbs, North Sydney – 1977 to 1987. Tests 27.

Five eighth. Reserve grader who outplayed Wally Lewis when picked for New Zealand in Test upsets.

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“I was like a bull,” he said. “You wave a red flag in front of a bull and it goes mental. You wave an Aussie jersey in front of me and I’m going to do the same thing.”

Honourable mentions
Lots of solid players missed out on this team including David Furner (second row – one Test), John ‘Chicka’ Ferguson (wing – three Tests), Bill Farnsworth (five-eighth – four Tests) Dennis Fitzgerald (prop – five Tests), Brian Fitzsimmons (hooker – four Tests), Percy Fairhall (hooker – five Tests), Andrew Farrer (centre – one Test), Keiran Foran (five-eighth – 24 Tests for NZ), Blake Ferguson (wing – seven Tests), Israel Folau (wing – eight Tests).

Also a shout-out to two Queensland Country legends who never hit the big time, Arch Foley – for whom the Foley Shield in named, the halfback in North Queensland’s Team of the Century), and Frank Fisher, the Wally Lewis of Indigenous footballers, named at five-eighth in the Indigenous Team of the Century.

After starring for Wide Bay against the British touring sides in 1932 and 1936, Fisher was offered a contract to play club rugby league in Salford, but the Queensland government refused his application to travel under the Aboriginals Protection and Restriction of Sale of Opium Act 1897 (Queensland).

And there you have the F Team. A scheming back line and solid forward pack, led by one of the all-time greats.

Next time we look at the Gs, a team with one of the great centre pairings and a truly nasty forward pack.