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

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Roar Guru
16th April, 2019
55

Continuing our list of teams to contest the Alphabet Cup, we head to the I team.

Do the Is have it? Well they are light on depth but they have some strike power.

Here is the list.

1. Greg Inglis (Captain)
Honours: Golden Boot 2009. Clive Churchill Medal 2007. Dally M Five-eighth of the Year 2008. Wally Lewis Medal 2009. Dally M Fullback of the Year 2013. Indigenous Team of the Century.
Years active: 2005-19
Clubs: Melbourne, South Sydney
Club games: 263 (149 tries, 9 goals, 4 field goals)
Representative Career: Tests 39, QLD 32
Nickname: GI

And we start with the best Queensland player ever from south of the Tweed, Greg Inglis.

Inglis burst onto the scene as a brilliant centre and winger, won a Clive Churchill medal at five-eighth and then became one of the premier fullbacks in the game.

He is one of the few players to win Dally M positional medals in more than one spot. Brad Fittler did it and Darren Lockyer holds the unique record of winning the Golden Boot in two different positions.

Inglis was part of a hugely successful era for Melbourne, winning grand finals in 2007 and 2009, before moving to Souths where he was part of the 2014 drought-breaking premiership win.

After debuting for Queensland in 2006 and scoring doubles in his first two games, Inglis has played in 12 Origin series, winning ten.

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He has regularly terrorised NSW during this time, scoring the most Origin tries and setting up his winger to score nearly as many. He was Queensland captain in 2018.

At the national level, Inglis has played 39 matches and only lost five times. Three times during his career he has scored tries in four consecutive international matches.

The 2009 season was a big year for Inglis, winning the Wally Lewis Medal for player of the Origin series, the man of the series in the Four Nations tournament and the Golden Boot award as the world’s greatest player.

Inglis has been a prolific try-scorer at all levels with 149 NRL tries, 31 tries for Australia (ranked third all time) and 18 for Queensland (ranked first in State of Origin).

Shane Richardson said when Inglis signed with Souths: “The night I signed him, which was on Christmas Eve in 2010, I said it was the start of our 21st premiership and it was.”

Greg Inglis

(Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

2. Ken Irvine
Honours: Nominated for Rugby League Immortal 2018. ARL Hall of Fame. ARL Team of the Century. NSWRL Team of the Century. NSW Sports Hall of Fame.
Years active: 1958-73
Clubs: North Sydney, Manly
All games: 432 (385 tries, 1361 points)
Representative Career: Tests 31, NSW 24
Nickname: Mongo

Ken Irvine is the greatest try-scorer in the history of Australian rugby league.

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His record of 212 club tries has stood for over 40 years and will likely stand for a long time to come.

Apart from his 1968 season ruined by injury, Irvine scored at least 13 tries for every season of his career. And he did it while playing most of his football for one of the weaker teams, in North Sydney.

Irvine also scored at a strike rate of better than a try per game for both NSW and Australia. His 30 tries for NSW in 24 games is still the try-scoring record for the state.

Possibly the fastest player to ever play, in the early 1960s he held the world professional 100 yards record – 9.3 seconds, winning the Dubbo Gift. Although we should note that Michael Cleary, a 1962 Commonwealth Games 100 yards bronze medallist and winger for Souths, beat Irvine in a match race in 1964.

However, Irvine is certainly the only rugby league player to ever run a match race against a racehorse. His personal best over 100 metres was 10.2 seconds, the world record at the time was 10.1.

Irvine made three Kangaroo tours over a long career. At one point in 1963-64, he scored a try in nine consecutive international matches, and in 12 matches from 13, including a hat trick in the famous Swinton Massacre of 1963.

One international highlight was the third Ashes Test in 1962. Irvine scored in the corner in the dying minutes. He was required to take the kick for goal to potentially win the match and he confided in referee Darcy Lawler that he had little chance. Lawler suggested a change to his ball position and Irvine duly kicked the match winning goal.

Irvine left Norths for Manly in 1971 and finally tasted premiership success in 1972 and 1973.

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Johnny Raper said: “I’ve never seen a better winger in an Australian jumper.”

A note on the North Sydney ‘Bears’. You would think with all the passion shown for the Bears nickname that it was around since 1908. Not so.

North Sydney were originally known as the North Shoremen. The Bears name was only taken on in 1960 after a sponsorship from the Big Bear supermarket in Neutral Bay.

3. Craig Innes
Years active: 1992-97
Clubs: Leeds (UK), Western Reds, Manly
Club games: 195 (81 tries, 11 goals)
Representative Career: Tests 1 (Rest of the World)

Craig Innes was a former All Black, playing 17 rugby union Tests, who ended up at Manly in the mid-1990s via Leeds and the Western Reds, where he forged a great reputation in a short period of time.

Innes played six seasons for Leeds, including two losing Challenge Cup finals and two losing premiership finals. He then briefly turned out for the Reds before joining Manly in 1996.

Innes played every match for Manly in their successful 1996 season where they only lost four matches and scored the opening try in the club’s grand final victory.

He was nearly as successful the following year, playing every match and losing only six, but unfortunately one of them was the grand final to Newcastle.

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His league career was affected by the Super League split, as he couldn’t represent NZ at the time, and he re-joined rugby union in 1998.

He did play a game for a Rest of the World team in 1997 cobbled together to provide some international competition for the ARL.

Innes on rugby league: “It was tough – a real grind in Australia, and I really liked that. No quarter asked or given, and I enjoyed that. In league, it’s up to you how much you want to get involved, and I liked that.”

4. Jamal Idris
Years active: 2008-17
Clubs: Canterbury, Gold Coast, Penrith, Wests Tigers
Club games: 136 (41 tries)
Representative Career: Tests 1, NSW 1

Jamal Idris was an imposing physical package who looked to be heading towards greatness but was hampered by fitness and injury throughout his career.

As a youth he competed for Australia in javelin at the World Youth Championships in 2007.

After bursting onto the scene as a teenager with Canterbury in 2009, Idris won the Dally M Rookie of the Year.

By the age of 21 in 2011 Idris had been picked on the bench for both NSW and Australia and scored a try on debut in each case.

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But he was never to represent at this level again, although he did play for NSW Country on a number of occasions, winning a man of the match award in 2014.

Idris moved from the Bulldogs to the Gold Coast in 2012 and then to Penrith in 2014 before finishing his career with the Wests Tigers. He retired at just 27 years old.

Idris on his career: “One of the greatest highlights was the interview before I played Origin. I did an interview at my Nan’s house with all of my family there and my Nan was just so proud to be interviewed.”

Jamal Idris hugs Jamie Soward

Jamal Idris hugs former Penrith team-mate Jamie Soward. (AAP Image/Action Photographics, Grant Trouville)

5. Jamayne Isaako (goal-kicker)
Years active: 2017 to present
Clubs: Brisbane
Club games (to 2018): 26 (11 tries, 97 goals, 1 field goal)
Representative Career: Tests 1 (NZ)

Jamayne Isaako might turn out to be the youngest player on any of these lists, being only 22 years old.

But his surname starts with an I and his 2018 season for Brisbane was a revelation, although his start to this year has been less than stellar.

He has become just the third Brisbane player after Darren Lockyer and Michael De Vere to score more than 200 points in a season. As a result Isaako was named the 2018 Dally M Rookie of the Year.

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His 233 points are the most in history by a player in his rookie season and the first since Daryl Halligan in 1991 to be the comp’s top point-scorer in his first year.

A dynamic winger with great skills in the air, Isaako may turn out to be one of the greats. He has already represented NZ.

6. Brad Izzard
Honours: Penrith Team of Legends
Years active: 1982-92
Clubs: Penrith
Club games: 206 (73 tries)
Representative Career: NSW 4
Nickname: Whiz

I’m a bit short of halves here, so Brad Izzard moves from the centres to five-eighth, where he played 55 games including three finals.

Brad Izzard was a talented, tackle-breaking centre and was a member of the great Penrith team that won the club’s first premiership in 1991. He played over 200 games for Penrith and scored 73 tries.

Izzard played for NSW in the 1982 Origin series after only 12 first grade games and scored two tries. He did not gain representative selection again for many years. After nearly a decade he played one further game from the bench in 1991.

After his successful 1991 season, Izzard was discovered to have a chronic neck injury in 1992, which ended his career.

In 2006 Izzard was selected on the bench for the Panthers Team of Legends.

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7. Ben Ikin
Years active: 1995-04
Clubs: Gold Coast Seagulls, North Sydney, Brisbane
Club games: 150 (53 tries, 7 goals)
Representative Career: Tests 2, QLD 17
Nickname: Tina Turner

I am desperately short a halfback, so Ben Ikin will have to adapt.

Ikin was the teenager famously not recognised by his Origin coach Paul Vautin in 1995. But he went on to have a successful career which saw him represent his country, win a premiership with Brisbane in 2000 and play 150 first grade games.

Ikin became the youngest player in Origin history when he was picked for a depleted Queensland ARL team in 1995 at only 18 years of age after only four first grade games with the Gold Coast.

He played all three Origin games and scored a try in the third encounter. Ikin went on to play 17 Origin games between 1995 and 2003.

His most famous moment was in the first game of 1998, when he collected a Kevin Walters chip kick in the dying moments of the game to help send Tony Carroll over for a try, winning the game by one point.

After moving to North Sydney, Ikin played two Tests against NZ from the bench in 1998. He moved to Brisbane in 2000 and was part of the premiership winning team that year.

On the 1995 Origin series: “It was an emotional time, just because of the enormity of what we achieved that year. Fatty made us not feel that we were carrying the burden of Queensland, but more that Queensland were right behind us.”

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A serious knee injury prematurely ended Ikin’s career at only 27.

8. Bill Ives
Years active: 1920-28
Clubs: Glebe, Eastern Suburbs, St George
Club games: 101 (15 tries, 8 goals)
Representative Career: NSW 4

Bill Ives was a front rower in the 1920s who played over 100 club games, mainly for Eastern Suburbs. He also represented NSW four times against Queensland.

A strong Queensland side during that era meant that Australian representative opportunities were limited.

Ives won two premierships with the Roosters in 1923 and 1924 and he captained the side nine times in 1925.

Ives was also a handy cricketer and played seven times for NSW, taking 21 wickets as a right arm fast-medium bowler.

9. Jonathon ‘Clarrie’ Ives
Years active: 1920-24
Clubs: North Sydney
Club games: 56 (14 tries, 6 goals)
Representative Career: Tests 1, NSW 10

Bill’s brother Clarrie Ives was a member of the great North Sydney team of 1921-22 and was one of five Norths players to go on the 1921-22 Kangaroo tour.

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He did not play a Test on that tour but was picked for the second Ashes Test in 1924. At 34, he was the oldest player ever to debut for Australia.

Ives was primarily a second-rower at club level but played an equal amount of prop in representative teams and he also played some hooker, eight times for Norths and once for NSW.

He was a late starter, being 30 when he debuted for Norths. He was club captain in his final year in 1924.

In the Rugby League News in 1923, Ives was described as follows: “One of his physique is often rated on the slow side, but the speed he unwinds when breaking through the ruck or backing up his speedy three-quarters is astonishing. Clarrie is a good, honest rucker and a formidable man to stop”.

10. Sebastine Ikahihifo
Honours: 2017 UK Super League Dream Team
Years active: 2012 to present
Clubs: NZ Warriors, Huddersfield (UK)
Club games (to 2018): 100 (1 try)

Front-rowers are thin on the ground, but Ikahihifo played nearly 40 games for the Warriors at lock or from the bench, before moving to the English Super League, where he has primarily played prop.

A regular for Huddersfield, he was named their player of the year in 2017 and earned selection in the 2017 Super League Dream Team.

That year Ikahihifo made more tackle breaks than anyone else in the competition and was second for offloads.

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Warriors player Sebastine Ikahihifo scores a try. (AAP Image/SNPA, Teaukura Moetaua)

(AAP Image/SNPA, Teaukura Moetaua)

11. Tony Iro
Years active: 1987-99
Clubs: Wigan (UK), Manly, Eastern Suburbs, Hunter Mariners, Adelaide Rams, South Sydney, Leigh (UK)
Club games: 244 (52 tries)
Representative Career: Tests 25 (NZ)
Nickname: Sponge

Tony Iro was a well travelled and powerful winger/centre who became an equally effective second-rower.

Iro commenced his career in England and from there was first selected for NZ for the 1988 World Cup final. He scored a try on debut although NZ lost to Australia.

Iro was a fixture for NZ from 1989 to 1992 on the wing, and then again from 1995 to 1998 as a second-rower. Iro scored a late try in the 1995 World Cup semi-final to help NZ stage a brilliant comeback from 20-6 down after 50 minutes, and send the game into extra time.

Iro moved to Australia and played three seasons each for Manly and the Roosters before finishing his career hopping around the new Super League franchises of Hunter and Adelaide. In all, Iro played over 180 NRL games.

When Graham Lowe signed him for Wigan, it was by accident. Lowe recalled: “He was the first of a kind really, and it was just by chance that I signed him. I was trying to sign his brother, Kevin, and we got right down to him agreeing and then he came up with one more condition which was that I signed his brother as well.”

12. Sam Isemonger
Years active: 1998-07
Clubs: Cronulla, St George
Club games: 95 (10 tries)
Nickname: Iceman

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Sam Isemonger was a second-rower and bench forward for Cronulla and St George, making 95 NRL appearances.

A local Cronulla junior, Isemonger played seven seasons for the Sharks. His appearances were limited in 2001 and 2002 by two knee reconstructions, playing just three first grade games in two years.

His best year was 2004 when he broke into the starting side and played all 24 games for the season.

13. Craig Izzard
Years active: 1983-93
Clubs: Penrith, Parramatta, Leeds (UK), Balmain, Illawarra
Club games: 120 (Australia), 9 tries

The other Izzard brother still enjoyed a solid club career for a decade in the NRL, playing 119 first grade games.

A highlight was winning the pre-season cup with Illawarra in 1992 against a strong Brisbane side that would go on to win the premiership that year.

His brief stint for Leeds in England was memorable for a brawl in the match against Widnes, where the police actually had to break the fight up.

On a more sombre note, it was in his job as a police officer that Izzard was the one to have to knock on the door of the Alexander family in 1992 to tell them young Ben Alexander had passed away in a car accident.

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Bench

14. Krisnan Inu
Parramatta, NZ Warriors, Canterbury, Catalans (UK), Widnes (UK) – 2007 to present; Tests: 6 (NZ), 1 (Samoa).

Super talented three-quarter who played for NZ after only one first grade game. Played in the 2009, 2011 and 2012 grand finals for Parramatta, the Warriors and Canterbury.

15. Kevin Iro
Wigan (UK), Manly, Leeds (UK), Hunter Mariners, Auckland, St Helens (UK) – 1987-01. Tests: 34 (NZ), 1 (Rest of the World), 3 (Cook Islands).

‘Beast’ was an unlucky back who only played 44 mostly ineffective games in Australia out of 344 total games for 175 tries.

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16. Peter Inskip
Canterbury, North Sydney, Wynnum-Manly (QLD) – 1968-75.

Goal kicking fullback from Tamworth.

17. Vivian ‘Mick’ Irwin
Wests Brisbane (QLD) – 1948-50. QLD: 1.

Centre. Scored a try in Wests’ 1948 grand final win and played in the 1950 grand final win as well. Named in the club’s team of the 1940s and played one game for QLD in a draw against NSW.

Honourable mentions
There is only one unlucky player and that is Roger Irving, a second-rower that played for Illawarra against the touring British in 1974 and also played one game for NSW Country and NSW.

And there you have the I Team. Get the ball wide is all I’ll say. Having GI chiming into the back line to put Ken Irvine away is their biggest hope.

Next time we look at the Js, a solid side with a wealth of halfback riches, possibly the best across two countries.