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Rugby League’s History: The all-time great alphabet teams – letter K

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Roar Guru
14th May, 2019

Continuing our search for the ultimate alphabet team, we now have the K team. They have a fearsome forward pack, some clever halves and a bit of speed out wide, so this team may cause some problems.

Editor’s note: Publishing the L article prior to the K one was an error on our part. The author submitted these in the correct order.

1. Harry Kadwell
Years active: 1927–1934.
Clubs: South Sydney, St George.
Club games: 86 (22 tries, 77 goals).
Representative Career: NSW: 8.
Nickname: “Mick”.

There are no K’s who have represented Australia at fullback, so the spot goes to Harry “Mick” Kadwell, who played eight games for New South Wales. Kadwell toured with the 1929-30 Kangaroos and played eight tour matches but no Tests (according to Kadwell, he was the first-choice half but was deliberately kicked in the shins at training by a Queensland front-rower because they wanted Joe ‘Chimpy’ Busch to be halfback and he was out injured for five weeks).

To give you an idea of life at the time in rugby league, Kadwell nearly didn’t go on the tour at all, because it was for six months and his boss wouldn’t keep his factory job open. Kadwell was one of ten children and was supporting his family. But then the locals started giving his boss a hard time, so he promised to keep the job open for six months.

To get to England, the team took a ship to New Zealand, Fiji, Honolulu to Vancouver, then a train through Canada to Niagara Falls and on to New York, then another ship across the Atlantic.


Kadwell was a speedy utility player who played fullback in Souths’ grand final win in 1927. The following year he played five-eighth in the final win for Souths, scoring two tries.

Kadwell played two of his games for NSW at fullback and then switched to halfback for his remaining six caps. After moving from Souths, Kadwell was halfback and captain-coach for St George. He led the Dragons to the 1933 final, losing to Newtown.

At the time of his death in 1999 Kadwell was the oldest surviving Kangaroo tourist.

2. Johnny King
Honours: ARL Hall of Fame.
Years active: 1960–1971.
Clubs: St George.
All games: 297 (202 tries, 640 points).
Representative Career: Tests: 15, NSW: 10.

When the great wingers get discussed, Johnny King is not mentioned as often as some others, but his record is second to none. After breaking into the great St George side as an 18-year-old, King played in seven consecutive grand final victories for the club and scored 143 career tries.

Playing outside Reg Gasnier in an all-star backline, King’s positional sense and speed made him a prolific try scorer. After scoring two tries in the 1960 grand final, he went on to create the unique record of scoring a try in six consecutive winning grand finals, from 1960 to 1965.

In 1960 King was the youngest player to ever play in a grand final (18 years and 63 days). His most memorable and controversial moment may have been in the famous 1963 grand final when King was tackled twice in the mud, but was not held and continued on to score the decisive try in St George’s 8-3 victory over Wests.

After representing NSW from 1962 to 1965, King finally received his first Australian jersey in the 1966 home Ashes, scoring a try in the decider. He was then was selected for the 1966-67 Kangaroo Tour where he played six Tests, scoring tries in both of Australia’s wins over Great Britain. King was a regular in Australian sides until 1970.


King’s career almost ended in 1965 when he badly mauled his foot while mowing his mother-in-law’s lawn. He was in hospital for some time and it was feared he would never play again. Be careful of doing good deeds for your mother-in law.

After retirement, King coached the Western Division Country side to their famous 1974 Amco Cup victory.

3. Bill Kelly
Honours: The Anzac Test trophy is called the Willam Kelly Cup. Wellington Rugby League Team of the Century.
Years active: 1912–1915.
Clubs: Athletic (New Zealand), Balmain.
Club games: 27 (Balmain) (16 tries).
Representative Career: Tests: 1 (Australia), 17 (New Zealand), NSW: 3.
Nickname: “The Prince of Coaches”.

Bill Kelly was the first player to play international rugby league for both New Zealand and Australia. Kelly first played rugby union in New Zealand, representing Wellington in 1911. He switched codes when the Wellington Rugby League was started and played with Athletic who made the grand final that year. He toured Australia with the New Zealand team in 1912 and 1913, playing against NSW and Queensland.

Kelly then moved to Australia and played with Balmain in 1914 and 1915, scoring 16 tries in only 27 games. He represented Australia against England in 1914, played for NSW in 1915 and was captain-coach of the all-conquering Balmain team that won the 1915 competition. At this time Kelly was considered the best centre three quarter in the game.

Kelly’s playing career was abruptly ended by injuries sustained in WWI, but he went on to become a highly successful coach, including coaching a weak University to runners up in 1926, New Zealand against Great Britain in 1932, Newtown to win the City Cup in 1937 and coaching Balmain to the 1939 premiership.

4. Matt King
Honours: Melbourne Team of the first 20 years 2018.
Years active: 2003–2013.
Clubs: Melbourne, Warrington (UK), South Sydney.
Club games: 220 (129 tries, 1 goal).
Representative Career: Tests: 10, NSW: 9.
Nickname: “Sideshow Bob”.

The man with the best hair in the business was also a powerful and dangerous centre for Melbourne, Warrington, NSW and Australia.


King scored 129 tries in 230 games in a stellar club career. But he was a late starter in the game having walked away from Cronulla when he was 21 after becoming disillusioned with a lack of opportunities, taking up work as a garbage collector and a barman.

After debuting in 2003, King scored a try in each of the 2006 and 2007 grand finals for Melbourne. After moving to England, King played a key part in a successful era for Warrington, with the club winning the 2009 and 2010 Challenge Cups and taking the minor premiership in 2011. King returned to play for South Sydney, retiring in 2013 after suffering two broken arms in that year.

King was first selected for NSW in 2005, scoring a hat-trick of tries in the decider, and was named NSW’s player of the series. He went on to play nine consecutive games for his state until moving to England. King was a prolific scorer at Origin level, crossing for six tries in his nine games. During that time he also played ten Tests for Australia.

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First selected for the 2005 end of season tour of England, he was considered the best winger in the world by the end of the tour, despite playing out of position.

In 2018, King was named in Melbourne’s best team of the past 20 years. After coaching him in the 2005 State of Origin series, Ricky Stuart said of Matt King “I knew he was a good player but I didn’t know he was that good”.

Matt King is also the inventor of the “Crackit”, a hybrid between a tennis racket and cricket bat to allow young children to play cricket without a heavy wooden bat.

5. Ross Kite
Years active: 1952–1961.
Clubs: St George, Wagga Wagga, Canterbury.
Club games: 129 (excluding Wagga) (60 tries, 52 goals).
Representative Career: Tests: five, NSW: 14.

This was tight one with Les Kiss, “Smokin’” Joe Kilroy and Sean Kenny-Dowell all having claims.

Ross Kite was a goal-kicking winger for St George who played in the first grand finals of the Dragons famous premierships streak of the 50’s and 60’s. Kite played two grand finals for St George, losing in 1953 and winning in 1956.

He played every game for the club between 1951 and 1956. After missing the 1957 finals, Kite moved to NSW Country and then returned to finish his career with Canterbury.

Kite was first selected for NSW in 1954 and scored four tries on debut. He finished with 14 tries for NSW from only eight appearances against Queensland and also played for the Blues against New Zealand.


Kite played three Tests against the French in 1955, scoring in his first two Tests, and another two games against the touring Great Britain side in 1958.

St George prop forward and hardman Kevin Ryan once said that Kite was one of the few men who could hurt him in a tackle.

6. Brett Kenny
Honours: ARL Hall of Fame, Golden Boot Award 1985, NSW Sports Hall of Fame, Lance Todd Trophy 1985.
Years active: 1980–1993.
Clubs: Parramatta.
All games: 374 (168 tries, 627 points).
Representative Career: Tests: 17, NSW: 17.
Nickname: “Bert”.

If not for Wally Lewis, Brett Kenny would be universally recognised as the best five-eighth of his generation – and many thought Kenny regularly got the better of ‘The King’.

Kenny was a Parramatta legend and part of a golden era for the club. He played in five grand finals for the club, winning four. On retirement, Kenny held the record for most games for the club (265) and most tries (110). One record of Kenny’s that may never be broken is scoring two tries in each of the 1981, 1982 and 1983 grand finals.

In the 1986 grand final, Kenny again managed to cross the line twice but could not ground the ball. As such, despite the presence of Peter Sterling, Mick Cronin, Ray Price, Eric Grothe and Mick Ella, Kenny could be considered the most influential player of that great Parramatta era.

In interstate football, Kenny would regularly match the great Queensland No.6. His overall record against ‘The King’ was eight wins and four losses.

But in both 1983 and 1984, he was shunted to centre for the first games for Alan Thompson or Terry Lamb – both of which were lost – before being placed back in his usual spot for later games, which were won. Kenny was at five-eighthh for all games in 1985 and 1986, both series being won by the Blues.


In 1987 Kenny was again moved to centre for the decider, this time for Cliff Lyons. Queensland duly wrapped up the series.

Kenny was good enough to displace tour vice-captain Lewis from the five-eighthh jumper on the 1982 “Invincibles” Kangaroo tour, but in later years moved to the centres, with Lewis as captain and five-eighth. Kenny’s acceleration, step, sleight of hand (the dummy!) and reading of the game contributed to one of the great centre combinations with Gene Miles.

Australia only lost one Test match with Kenny in the side (his last).

Kenny went on a second Kangaroo Tour in 1986, and in between he joined Wigan and won the 1985 Challenge Cup against Hull in what many consider the greatest of all Challenge Cup finals, scoring yet another finals try with a 50-metre run and winning the man of the match against his Parramatta teammate Peter Sterling.

He was afterwards acclaimed as the greatest rugby league player in history by the famous Great Britain winger Billy Boston.

The following year, Kenny received the Golden Boot award as the game’s greatest player.

7. Brett Kimmorley (goalkicker)
Honours: Dally M Halfback of the Year 2000. Clive Churchill Medal 1999. Cronulla Team of the Half Century.
Years active: 1995–2010.
Clubs: Newcastle, Hunter Mariners, Melbourne, Northern Eagles, Cronulla, Canterbury.
Club games: 307 (82 tries, 196 goals, 11 field goals).
Representative Career: Tests: 22, NSW: 10.
Nickname: “Noddy”.

The other great half from Newcastle. Like most halves of the era, Brett Kimmorley spent his career in the shadow of the great Andrew Johns, but his record stands against the very best.


In fact, Kimmorley only played two fewer Tests than Johns over their respective careers.

Kimmorley made his debut for Newcastle in 1995, but left the club during the Super League War looking for first grade opportunities. He was a key player for the short-lived Hunter Mariners, highlighted by finishing runners-up to Brisbane in the World Club Challenge.

His performances were enough for him to be chosen to represent Australia in the end of season tour, where he played two Tests from the bench.

After the Mariners were disbanded, Kimmorley joined a number of players in moving south to the new Melbourne club. Kimmorley was a sensation for the Storm, winning the Clive Churchill Medal in the club’s 1999 premiership and being named the club’s player of the year.

He was again selected for Australia and was halfback in the four nations final win against New Zealand. He was also halfback as Melbourne defeated St Helens in the World Club Challenge.

In 2000, Kimmorley made his State of Origin debut, with Johns relegated to the bench. He was also named the Dally M Halfback of the Year and went on to steer the Australian team to victory in the 2000 World Cup (with Johns playing hooker).

After a year with the ill-fated Northern Eagles, Kimmorley joined Cronulla where he played for seven seasons. In 2003 Kimmorley was selected for the Ashes and kicked a field goal to win the second Test. Kimmorley was again at halfback when Australia won the 2004 tri-series.

In State of Origin, Kimmorley’s highlight was playing halfback in the NSW clean sweep series of 2000, relegating Johns (who was returning from injury) to the bench. Kimmorley was a victim of the losing series in 2001 and was not picked again until 2005. He played five matches between 2005 and 2010 without cementing his spot.


Kimmorley played 307 club games, scoring over 700 career points. He was the first halfback to play over 300 games.

8. Noel Kelly
Honours: ARL Team of the Century, QRL Team of the Century, ARL Hall of Fame, Queensland Sports Hall of Fame, Order of Australia Medal.
Years active: 1956–1970.
Clubs: Railways Ipswich (Queensland) Brothers Ipswich (Queensland), Ayr (Queensland), Western Suburbs, Wollongong.
All games: 244 (19 tries, one goal).
Representative Career: Tests: 25, NSW: 6, Queensland: 8.
Nickname: “Ned”.

Noel Kelly is one of the few players to have all-time greatest claims in two positions. Kelly represented Australia at both hooker and prop and is universally regarded as one of the toughest players to have ever played the game.

Kelly made three consecutive grand finals with Wests from 1961 to 1963 but ran into the St George juggernaut and came away empty handed. Renowned as a hard man, Kelly was sent off 17 times during his career. He was even sent off twice in one match in a tour game in France after having refused to leave.

After representing Ipswich in 1958 and 1959, Kelly was selected for Queensland who won the 1959 interstate series, with Kelly dominating the scrums in the three winning games he played. As a result, he was named for the 1959-60 Kangaroo Tour.

Kelly was selected at hooker for the 1960 World Cup, including the final won by Australia over England. Ian Walsh held Kelly out of the national side in 1961 and 1962, so Kelly switched to prop and was selected again. From that point on Kelly was a fixture in the national team, switching between the two positions as required.

In 1967-68 Kelly became the first forward to make three Kangaroo Tours, two as hooker and one as prop. Kelly’s international career included 20 wins from 28 appearances. He was equally as successful at state level, Queensland winning five from six with Kelly at hooker, and NSW winning three from five with Kelly in the front row.

Kelly was named at hooker for both the QRL and ARL Teams of the Century. According to John Sattler “If there was a bloke you would want beside you in the trenches, it was ‘Ned’ Kelly.”


Some quotes from Kelly include; “I played the game hard, and I played for keeps”, “Retaliate first. That’s what I told my young Magpies”, “I have been sent off that many times, when I am in the front yard doing the gardening and the postie goes by and blows his whistle, I just get up and go and have a shower.”

Queensland great forward Gary Parcell on Noel Kelly getting his start: The current hooker was injured, “A draught horse stepped on his leg or something and Jack Morgan (president of the Ipswich Rugby League) rang me and said ‘what about that bad bugger from Goodna, isn’t he always getting chased by the cops?’ I said ‘don’t worry about that, he’s got plenty of ability and can fight, just put him in the side’.”

And again from Parcell: “Dud Beattie and I had a hell of a time (holding up the scrum). Because Ned (Kelly) was usually fighting everyone.”

9. Ken Kearney (captain)
Honours: ARL Hall of Fame. NSWRL Player of the year 1956.
Years active: 1948–1961.
Clubs: Leeds (UK), St George.
All games: 355 (35 tries, 3 goals).
Representative Career: Tests: 31, NSW: 17.
Nickname: “Killer”.

Ken Kearney was captain of the great St George side of the late 1950’s that started their celebrated eleven-season premiership dynasty. He is credited as having more influence than any other over setting up the ruthless professionalism that made such a run possible.

Kearney was already a rugby union star (having played seven Tests) when he was enticed to Leeds in England to switch codes and play rugby league. He returned to Australia in 1952 and was selected for the 1952 Kangaroo Tour. Kearney took over as captain-coach of Australia in 1956 and whitewashed New Zealand to regain the Trans-Tasman Trophy for the first time in over 20 years.

Kearney stayed in the role for the 1956 Kangaroo Tour and captained Australia in nine Tests in total.

Kearney captained St George to their first grand final win in 1956 and was named the competition’s player of the year. Taking over as captain-coach in 1957 Kearney would take the club to another four premierships in a row before retiring. He is still the oldest player to have appeared in a grand final, at over 36.


Colin Love (ARL Chairman): “Perhaps no other player in the game’s history has ever had such a profound influence on a single club as him. He possessed a brilliant tactical understanding of the game and it was Kearney who devised, as captain-coach, the blueprint that made Saints virtually unbeatable.”

10. David Klemmer
Years active: 2013–
Clubs: Canterbury, Newcastle.
Club games (to 2018): 113 (4 tries).
Representative Career: Tests: 17, NSW: 12.
Nickname: “Klem”.

It’s a tribute to David Klemmer that he makes the team when his career is barely half over. Klemmer only debuted in 2013 and really only hit his stride in 2014 but by 2018 he had already played 17 Test matches and 12 straight origin matches for NSW.

David Klemmer Australia Kangaroos Rugby League Anzac Test 2017

David Klemmer. (Image: NRL)

After playing on the bench in the Bulldogs’ 2014 grand final loss, Klemmer was selected for Australia for the Four Nations and played on the bench in the final, won by New Zealand. He got his revenge when selected for the 2016 Four Nations, which Australia won.

He made the starting line up for the 2017 Anzac Test and retained his spot for the World Cup, including the final win against England.

In State of Origin, Klemmer started mainly from the bench, including in 2017 when he was named NSW’s player of the series. Klemmer graduated to the starting line up in 2018 when NSW won the series for only the second time since 2005.

11. Ben Kennedy
Honours: Dally M Lock of the Year 2005 and 2006. Manly Best Ever Team.
Years active: 1996–2006.
Clubs: Canberra, Newcastle, Manly.
Club games: 195 (70 tries).
Representative Career: Tests: 16, NSW: 13.
Roy and HG nicknames: “The President” “Dead Kennedy”.


Ben Kennedy was so good that he is considered a favourite son and all-time great at two clubs. At Manly this comes after only playing two seasons for the club – such was his impact.

I just loved the way this guy played – maximum intensity.

After four years in Canberra, where he won rookie of the year and was picked for NSW in 1999, Kennedy moved to Newcastle and was a key part of the side that won the 2001 grand final, scoring a try in the decider and being arguably best on ground.

Kennedy was first picked for Australia in 2000 and went on the 2001 Kangaroo Tour. He played all three Tests on tour even after breaking his hand in the second Test.

Kennedy joined Manly in 2005 and, as club captain, took his game to a new level, winning the Dally M Award for best lock in both 2005 and 2006 and taking the club to their first finals in six seasons. His impact was such over just two seasons that he was named in Manly’s best ever team.

In State of Origin, while often out injured, when Kennedy played NSW mostly won. He played all three matches in the 2000 and 2005 series wins as well as two winning matches in 2003. NSW only ever lost two Origin matches with Kennedy in the side.

Danny Buderus: “He just loved to win and would do anything to win.”

12. Stephen Kearney
Honours: Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit, New ZealandRL Legends of League 2012, Melbourne Team of the first 20 years 2018.
Years active: 1991–2005.
Clubs: Randwick Kingfishers (New Zealand), Western Suburbs, Auckland, Melbourne, Hull FC (UK).
Club games: 288 (excludes Randwick) (42 tries).
Representative Career: Tests: 45 (New Zealand).


Stephen Kearney was a damaging ball-playing second rower who won a premiership with Melbourne, a Challenge Cup with Hull FC, captained his country and also coached his country to a World Cup title.

After moving from New Zealand, Kearney joined Wests in 1992 and the following year was named as the youngest ever captain of New Zealand – at 21 years old. When Auckland were admitted to the NRL Kearney joined them for their debut season. He then joined Melbourne for their initial season in 1998 and played in their grand final win the following year.

Stephen Kearney, head coach of the Warriors after the Round 5 NRL match between the New Zealand Warriors and the Gold Coast Titans at Mount Smart Stadium in Auckland, New Zealand, Sunday, April 2, 2017. (AAP Image/David Rowland)

Stephen Kearney. (AAP Image/David Rowland)

Kearney captained the club in 2004 before moving to England where he joined Hull FC and played in their Challenge Cup victory.

Kearney was the first player from New Zealand to play 250 NRL games.

13. Nik Kosef
Years active: 1992–2002.
Clubs: Manly, Northern Eagles.
Club games: 158 (17 tries).
Representative Career: Tests: 10, NSW 8.

It seems odd for a man who played over 150 club games and represented Australia ten times, but Nik Kosef is a story of what might have been. Kosef was a superbly talented ball playing lock but was plagued by four knee reconstructions from 1998 which prevented him from reaching even greater heights.

Kosef played for the Sea-Eagles’ in three grand finals between 1995 and 1997, winning in 1996. He showed his ball playing skills by playing five-eighth for the club in all finals during their run to the 1996 premiership.


Kosef represented Australia from 1995 to 1999 but serious knee injuries in 2000 and 2001 limited him to just ten club appearances over two years, before he retired in 2002 at just 28 years old.

At State of Origin level, Kosef got his chance in 1997 during the Super League split and played in eight out of a possible nine games from 1997 to 1999. For Australia Kosef was first selected for the 1995 World Cup, playing three matches.

He played in the Anzac Tests in 1998 and 1999 and was a member of the 1999 tri-nations team, playing second row in the final.

Kosef was Manly through and through: “There was no bigger thrill for me than walking out there when everyone was booing you.”


14. Max Krilich
(Manly) – 1970–1983. Tests: 13, NSW: 7. Nickname: “Thrower”.

Hooker. Captain of the Invincibles in 1982. 334 games for Manly and two-time premiership winner.

15. Robbie Kearns
(Cronulla, Western Reds, Melbourne) – 1992–2005. Tests: 23, NSW: 8.


Prop. Melbourne 1999 premiership winner and Test regular. Suffered a broken collarbone when thrown from a horse during a New South Wales team bonding session.

16. Brent Kite
(St George, Manly, Penrith) – 2002-2015. Tests: 14 (plus 6 for Tonga), NSW: 10.

Prop. Underrated metre eater who played in four grand finals for Manly and over 300 first grade games.

17. Luke Keary
(Souths, Sydney Roosters) – 2013-. Tests 2.

Five-eighth, 2018 Clive Churchill Medal winner. Currently tearing it up for the Roosters.

Honourable mentions
Jack Kingston (Lock – three Tests), Les Kiss (Wing – four Tests), Reg Kay (Second row – three Tests), Stephen Knight (Wing/Centre – two Tests), Viliame Kikau (current Penrith gun second rower – eight Tests for Fiji), Shaun Kenny-Dowall (Centre/Wing – 21 Tests for New Zealand).

And there you have the K Team. Solid across the park and some real strike in the halves.