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

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Roar Guru
30th May, 2019
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I had to scratch around a bit for the N team. The backline is a mix of state other nationality players, but there is some speed and quality among them, and the forwards won’t take a backward step.

1. William Neill

Years active: 1908–14
Clubs: South Sydney, Newtown, Glebe
All games: 60
Representative career: NSW: 11
Nickname: ‘Webby’

William ‘Webby’ Neill was a rugby league original, playing fullback in Souths’ first-ever grand final-winning team in 1908. Neill was there again when Souths backed up and won in 1909. After leaving Souths for Newtown he played fullback as the Bluebags defeated the Rabbitohs to win the 1910 premiership. Neill is one of few players to have won premierships with two different clubs in consecutive years.

Neill was selected in various representative teams between 1909 and 1912, although he never played an ‘official’ Test. These included three games for Kangaroos against the Wallabies (see the F Team for this odd bit of history) and, as part of the 1911-12 Australasian Kangaroo tour, seven minor matches and a warm-up: Australasia II vs Hunter and Northern. Neill also played 11 games for New South Wales, including four wins against Queensland, and various games against touring sides, including New Zealand and Great Britain.

To give you an idea of how fullback play has changed, Neill never scored a try in his club or representative career.

Neill later became a respected referee, officiating in grand finals and the 1932 Ashes.

A note on the 1911-12 ‘Kangaroo’ tour: due to a dispute between the New South Wales and Queensland rugby leagues, no Queensland players were invited to tour; however, there were four included from New Zealand! The other oddity s that in the third and deciding Ashes test England played with only 12 men after one had been injured in the warm-up before the game started.

2. Jason Nightingale

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Years active: 2007–18
Clubs: St George Illawarra
Club games: 266 (110 tries)
Representative career: Tests: 33 (NZ)
Nickname: ‘Gypsy’

Jason Nightingale has been a St George Illawarra and New Zealand stalwart. Awkward, very safe and deceptively quick, Nightingale scored two tries in the Dragons’ 2010 premiership victory (and one in the preliminary final) and had a better than 50 per cent winning ratio for the Kiwis.

Nightingale’s representative highlights were the 2010 and 2014 Four Nations triumphs over Australia. In both finals Nightingale scored the final try, which proved decisive on each occasion. Across those two tournaments Nightingale scored in every match bar one and was the top try-scorer in the 2014 tournament. He was also in the 2008 World Cup-winning squad, although he wasn’t selected for the final. Overall, Nightingale scored 19 tries in 33 appearances for the Kiwis.

Nightingale scored 110 tries for the Dragons from 266 matches, solidly doing his job for the club for 12 years. He was named Dragons player of the year in 2011. The following quote from Players Voice sums up his commitment to the Dragons: “It hasn’t always made economic sense for me to stay. But it has always made sense in the heart. Playing for this club is a privilege above everything else.”

Nightingale retired as one of just six players to have played over 250 premiership matches, 30 Tests and scored at least 100 tries. The others are Billy Slater, Greg Inglis, Bob Fulton, Brad Fittler and Darren Lockyer.

Jason Nightingale of the St George-Illawarra Dragons

(AAP)

3. Rex Norman (goalkicker)

Years active: 1910–22
Clubs: Annandale, South Sydney, Eastern Suburbs
Club games: 142 (29 tries, 45 goals)
Representative career: NSW: 1

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I’m a bit short on centres, so with apologies to Ziggy Niszczot, I’ve gone with another centre with a great name: Hercules Rex Norman.

The younger brother of Test five-eighth Ray Norman, Rex toured with the 1921-22 Kangaroos, playing in 21 matches on tour, including a warm-up game against ‘Australasia II’, but did not appear in a Test.

Norman played for New South Wales against Queensland in 1921, scoring a try and kicking four goals to push his selection for the Kangaroo tour. He also played a number of times for NSW seconds and for ‘Metropolis’ (the old City).

At club level Norman first played for the struggling Annandale club before alternating between South Sydney and Eastern Suburbs. He captained Souths in their 1916 grand final loss to Balmain. Norman played a total of 142 games across his club career. At one time Rex, Ray and a third brother, Roy, all played for Annandale, where their passing game was described by Rugby League News as a joy to watch.

Norman also played cricket for NSW, taking 31 wickets across seven first-class games.

4. Dane Nielsen

Years active: 2007–17
Clubs: Cronulla, Melbourne, New Zealand Warriors, St George Illawarra, Bradford (UK), South Sydney
Club games: 124 (30 tries)
Representative career: QLD: 3

Dane Nielsen has had a troubled career, but at his best under the disciplined Melbourne system he was good enough to represent Queensland in 2011 and 2012. After leaving Melbourne Nielsen skipped from club to club, never quite finding his place.

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Nielsen played three games for Queensland, including the 2012 decider, won by a single point.

In club football Nielsen’s best years were with Melbourne from 2009 to 2012. He played on the wing in the 2009 grand final and was a fixture in the side for the next three years, culminating in the 2012 premiership.

5. Noa Nadruku

Honours: Dally M winger of the year 1993 and 1996
Years active: 1993–99
Clubs: Canberra, Nth QLD
Club games: 131 (90 tries)
Representative career: Tests: 4 (Fiji)

The original flying Fijian, Nadruku was a dual international for Fiji, representing in rugby union from 1988 to 1991 before joining the Raiders. The 26-year-old Nadruku was a sensation, scoring a club record 22 tries from 21 games in his first season and being named the competition’s premier winger. He was the first player to score better than a try a game across a season since Larry Corowa in 1978. The powerful winger remained a prolific try-scorer, including crossing in the Raiders 1994 grand final victory. He scored 73 tries for the Raiders from only 92 appearances.

Nadruku played for Fiji in 1994 against France and in the 1995 World Cup. He left Canberra for North Queensland after the Super League war and played two seasons with the club before retiring.

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6. Ernie Norman

Honours: ARL Hall of Fame.
Years active: 1931–39
Clubs: Eastern Suburbs
All games: 160 (36 tries)
Representative career: Tests: 12; NSW: 15
Nickname: ‘Bunty’

Ernie Norman was pivot during Easts’ golden run in the 1930s, winning a hat-trick of premierships from 1935 to 1937. A stocky player, he was a noted low-tackling defender and formed a lethal halves pairing with fellow hall of fame member Vic Thicknesse.

After his debut in 1931 Norman’s skills were quickly recognised and he was selected for New South Wales as a teenager within three months. Norman was selected for Australia for the 1932 Ashes at only 19 and starred in the famous ‘Battle of Brisbane’ won by Australia.

One of his greatest performances was in 1936 when New South Wales defeated the touring Great Britain side, with Norman producing a brilliant defensive game to shut down the British attack. Norman missed the 1933 Kangaroo tour through injury but toured with the 1937 Kangaroos, scoring the first try.

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The five-eighth played his entire career for Eastern Suburbs, playing more than 100 matches for the club.

7. Kodi Nikorima

Years active: 2015 – present
Clubs: Brisbane
Club games (to 2018): 79 (20 tries)
Representative career: Tests: 13 (NZ)

Nikorima was the only international half available to the N team. He has 13 Tests to his name for New Zealand and is forming a solid combination with Shaun Johnson. After a disappointing World Cup campaign, Nikorima combined effectively with Johnson as New Zealand defeated Australia in a one-off Test in October 2018 and toured Great Britain.

A dynamic running half, Nikorima is developing his game management skills and defence, now alongside Blake Green at the Warriors. He spent his first two seasons in Brisbane solely as a bench player, where his electric acceleration and evasive skills were put to good use. After Ben Hunt moved to St George, Nikorima was given the halfback jumper and has guided the club to consecutive finals appearances before leaving the club in 2019.

At only 24 years old Nikorima looks to have a long career ahead for the Kiwis and maybe now for the Warriors as well.

Kodi Nikorima

(Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

8. Bill Noble

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Years active: 1908–13
Clubs: Newtown, Balmain
Club games: 61 (9 tries)
Representative career: Tests: 7; NSW: 21

Bill Noble was Newtown’s first captain in 1908 after defecting from rugby union. Noble was selected for the first Kangaroo tour in 1908-09 but was injured on tour and didn’t play many matches. In 1909 he played in the three-Test series against New Zealand and in 1910 played for New South Wales and Australia against England.

He was captain in 1910 when Newtown won the premiership, although he missed the final through injury, and he made a second Kangaroo tour in 1911 along with six other Newtown players. Noble played two Tests on tour as well as in 19 other matches. He played the final season of his career with Balmain in 1913.

Noble was fast for a big man and in his six Tests played every position in the forwards.

9. Fred Nolan

Years active: 1933–37
Clubs: North Sydney
Club games: 56 (4 tries)
Representative career: Tests: 2; NSW: 3

Fred Nolan played hooker for North Sydney and after playing for NSW was selected for the 1937 Kangaroo tour. Nolan played two Tests against New Zealand, scoring a try, and seven tour matches in England and France.

Nolan played five seasons for North Sydney, with the Bears making the finals in 1935 and 1936.

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10. Bryan Niebling

Honours: Rothmans Medal (Brisbane) 1986
Years active: 1980–91
Clubs: Valleys (QLD), Redcliff (QLD), Brisbane, Hull Kingston Rovers (UK)
Club games: 118 (excluding Valleys) (17 tries, 1 field goal)
Representative career: Tests: 13, QLD: 9
Nickname: ‘Horse’

Bryan Niebling was a tough prop or second-rower in the Brisbane competition in the 1980s who became a foundation member of the Brisbane Broncos.

Niebling was first selected for Queensland for the last traditional interstate clashes in 1981. After providing a solid platform for Queensland during the 1983 and 1984 State of Origin series victories, Niebling was selected for the 1984 Ashes and played all three Tests. Named player of the year for the Brisbane competition in 1986, Niebling was selected for the Kangaroo tour and played all five Tests as Australia went through the tour undefeated. He lost only one Test in his career, his last.

Niebling never won a BRL premiership, losing the last pre-Broncos grand final with Redcliffe in 1987. He played the last of his Tests and state of origins that year, and his career was finishing up when he became part of the Brisbane Broncos first season in the NSWRL. He made only 20 appearances across two years before finishing his career in England.

11. Herb Narvo (captain)

Honours: ARL Hall of Fame, NSW Sports Hall of Fame, NSW Country Team of the Century
Years active: 1934–49
Clubs: Newtown, Norths Newcastle, St George, Cootamundra, Camden
All games: 121 (52 tries, 188 points)
Representative career: Tests: 4; NSW: 11

Hermann Olaf ‘Herb’ Narvo was a rugged second rower who won a premiership with Newtown in 1943, went on a Kangaroo tour and was a country rugby league legend. He was also a fine cricketer and a handy boxer, winning an Australian heavyweight title in 1945 with a record 25 first-round knockouts. He lost the title the following year and backed up to play for St George the very next day.

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Narvo’s Newton career coincided with the club’s most successful period, and he formed a devastating forward pairing with Frank ‘Bumper’ Farrell. After winning the premiership with Newtown in 1943 Narvo was again a driving force as they finished minor premiers in 1944. However, he missed the grand final and grand final challenge due to war service – he was a physical fitness instructor for the RAAF – and Newtown were beaten by Balmain. In 1945 Newton finished second only to lose to Balmain again in the semi-final.

After starting his career in NSW Country, Narvo came to Sydney in 1937 and made an immediate impact. He was unlucky to be left out of the 1937 Kangaroo tour but gained a late call-up due to injury. He had a great tour, playing in four Tests and scoring two tries. Further international appearances were impacted by World War II, but he continued to excel as a fine player and leader. He scored nine tries in 11 games for New South Wales and captained his state in 1945.

Narvo also captain-coached St George to a grand final in 1946, coming from second last the year before, again losing by a point to his bogey team, Balmain, before heading back to the country to see out his career.

From Easts stalwart Dick Dunn as per the NRL Hall of Fame website, Narvo was “almost unstoppable from 20 metres out, a grim tackler and a player of great endurance”.

From Ken Barry, who played against Narvo in the Newcastle competition, as per the Port Stephens Examiner: “We were playing North Newcastle when a rampaging Herb Narvo, then an Australia player and heavy weight boxing champion, was heading for the try line with only me standing in his way.

“Being a small halfback and working on self-preservation I missed the tackle. On his way back to join his teammates the big forward ruffled my hair and said ‘that is the smartest decision you have ever made son’.”

12. Tawera Nikau

Honours: Dally M Lock of the Year 1998. NZRL Legend of League. Melbourne Storm 20 Year Team
Years active: 1987–2001
Clubs: Otahuhu Leopards (NZ), York Wasps (UK), Sheffield (UK), Castleford (UK), Cronulla, Melbourne, Warrington (UK)
Club games: 338 (from Castleford on) (46 tries)
Representative career: Tests: 19 (NZ)

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Tawera Nikau was a star lock forward in the UK Super League renowned as a fierce runner and high-energy player. After six years with Castleford, including one Challenge Cup final appearance, Nikau was enticed to Cronulla, where he played in the club’s losing Super League grand final side in 1997. He was then picked up by Melbourne for their NRL debut season in 1998. Nikau was the driving force in the Storm’s second-half comeback to win the 1999 grand final. Afterwards he returned to England to see out his career for Warrington.

Nikau played for New Zealand between 1989 and 1997, highlighted by the Kiwis 1991 first Test victory over Australia, but thereafter stood down from representative football for personal reasons. He coached and played for New Zealand Maori in the 2000 World Cup

13. Andy Norval

Honours: ARL Hall of Fame
Years active: 1934–41
Clubs: Souths Newcastle, Eastern Suburbs
All games: 144 (62 tries, 188 points)
Representative career: Tests: 3; NSW 8

Once again we have a representative player whose career was curtailed by World War II. Andy Norval was born in South Australia and played Australian Rules football as a junior before moving to Newcastle and taking up rugby league. He became a brilliant lock forward for Easts in Sydney during the 1930s when the club had a gold run, appearing in seven grand finals across eight years from 1934 to 1941 (Norval was absent in 1941), winning four of them. During his career the Tri-colours only missed the finals once.

Selected for the 1937 Kangaroo tour, Norval showed his versatility by making his debut on the wing the third Test against Great Britain before playing both Tests against France, also on the wing. He scored a try in each Test and had a perfect winning record. Further international football for Norval was prevented by the war but he did play for NSW eight times in his preferred lock position.

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Bench

14. Fred Neumann
Valleys (QLD); 1931–44; Tests: 1, QLD: 5; Nickname: ‘Firpo’
Wing and centre. A Valleys stalwart, he played 18 years and ten as captain. He was part of the Brisbane team in 1932 that defeated the touring England side 18-15. He played one Test that year against England and was part of the 1933 Kangaroo tour, although he played no Tests. Valley’s home ground was named after him.

15. Harold ‘Bob’ Nicholson
Souths (QLD), Norths (QLD), Kurilpa (QLD); 1909–12; Tests: 2, QLD: 17
Second row. Nicholson was a Brisbane rugby league pioneer who played in the competition’s first grand final, finishing runners-up with South Brisbane. He was picked for the 1911 Kangaroo tour but had to withdraw.

16. Ray Norman
Annandale, South Sydney, Eastern Suburbs; 1910–21; Tests: 2. NSW: 5
Five-eighth. Hugh Valentine Ray Norman, brother of Hercules Rex (above). Love the names. He won a premiership with Souths in 1914, played one Test before WWI, scoring a try, and one after. He holds the Annandale points-scoring record of 84.

17. Edgar Newham
Canterbury; 1938–48; Tests:2
Wing. After moving from Cowra, he played in Canterbury’s first premiership in 1938. He scored five tries in a match in 1942, when Canterbury won another premiership. He was a gunner in World War II and played for Australia in 1946 from Cowra as a 32-year-old. He was named in the Bulldogs 70-year team in 2004.

Honourable mention

Ken Nagas: wing , 5 Tests.

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And there you have the N Team. A tough forward pack might keep them in it, but they are probably one of the lesser sides.

Next time we look at the Os, another of the more modest sides but filled with enforcers and loose cannons.