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

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Roar Guru
6th June, 2019
52

And now to the O Team. This is another side where I had to delve into state players to fill the roster. It’s a bit of a crazy team – rough, tough, full of front-rowers and even pumped with a bit of artificial assistance in some areas.

1. Robbie O’Davis
Honours: Clive Churchill Medal 1997
Years active: 1992-2004
Clubs: Newcastle
Club games: 223 (78 tries, 45 goals, 1 field goal)
Representative Career: Tests: 8, Queensland: 12

Robbie O’Davis was a talented fullback for NSW, Queensland and Australia. His career became controversial when suspended for 22 weeks for testing positive to steroids allegedly contained in a dietary supplement.

O’Davis benefited from the Super League split, representing Queensland in their underdog 1995 Origin series victory and being selected for the 1995 World Cup, although he didn’t get on the field from the bench in the final.

His representative appearances were limited in 1996, but in 1997 with Super League players again unavailable, O’Davis was selected for Queensland and played a further Test for Australia in 1998.

1997 was O’Davis’ standout year, winning the Clive Churchill Medal in Newcastle’s famous first premiership win after scoring two tries, and also winning the Ron McAuliffe Medal for Queensland’s best player in the State of the Origin series.

After his ban, O’Davis suffered some injury-interrupted seasons before returning to form during the Knights 2001 premiership year.

2. Warren Orr
Years active: 1970s
Clubs: Atherton Roosters (QLD), Western Suburbs (QLD), Wynnum-Manly (QLD)
Representative Career: Tests: 2. Queensland: 9

Warren Orr was an electrifying winger from Atherton who played for Wests and Wynnum-Manly in Brisbane in the 1970s. Orr toured with the 1973 Kangaroos but did not play any Tests. In 1974 he was selected for the first two Ashes Tests, scoring Australia’s only try in their first Test victory.

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Orr played nine games for Queensland from 1972 to 1975. In 1974 Queensland drew two of the three games but lost the other. Orr was named in the Brisbane Rugby League Team of the ’70s.

3. Michael O’Connor (goalkicker)
Honours: Dally M Centre of the Year 1986 to 1988. Nominated for ARL Hall of Fame 2018
Years active: 1983-1992
Clubs: St George, Manly, St Helens (UK)
Club games: 211 (94 tries, 317 goals, 11 field goals)
Representative Career: Tests: 18. NSW: 19

What a great attacking player. What a sidestep. What a goalkicker. Michael O’Connor is up there with the best dual internationals to have played the rugby codes, and he was also one of the absolute best backs of his era.

O’Connor switched codes in 1983 after playing 13 rugby union internationals, including the Wallabies’ 1980 Bledisloe Cup triumph. Although O’Connor only played for the Queensland Reds for two years, he was so influential that he was named in their Team of the Century in 1999.

O’Connor played his first three seasons for St George, including in their losing grand final team of 1985.

O’Connor debuted for NSW in 1985 after having his nose broken the week before by his state captain Steve Mortimer, and had an immediate impact, scoring all of NSW’s 18 points in their first game victory.

NSW went on to win their first ever series then back up in 1986 with their first ever whitewash. O’Connor was the difference in the third match that year, kicking three from four including the only points of the second half. His opponents kicked none from five and NSW won by two points. O’Connor played in every Origin match between 1985 and 1988.

O’Connor was part of two famous State of Origin moments. Trailing by two in Game 3 1987, he broke clear and put on a side step only to be absolutely smashed by Wally Lewis in one of the great Origin tackles.

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And in Game 2 of 1991 he kicked one of the great goals from the sideline in the rain to win for NSW. On retirement, O’Connor held the record for most tries, goals and points for NSW.

O’Connor made his Test debut in 1986 and played most of his Tests on the wing due to the presence of Brett Kenny, Mal Meninga and Gene Miles. He played all Tests on the 1986 undefeated Kangaroo Tour and scored 170 points. That year he set game point scoring records against England, France and PNG.

In 1988 O’Connor scored a then-record 30 points in a match against PNG and later played in Australia’s victorious World Cup team, defeating NZ in the final. O’Connor scored 17 tries from only 18 appearances for Australia (and 11 from 19 for NSW). In 1990 O’Connor ruled himself out of a second Kangaroo Tour due to injury.

O’Connor left St George for Manly in 1987 and scored 14 out of 18 points in their grand final victory that year. He went on to captain the club, playing over 100 games a scoring in excess of 500 points.

In 2006 O’Connor was selected on the wing for Manly’s Dream Team of their first 60 years. In 2018 O’Connor was nominated for the ARL Hall of Fame.

4. Justin O’Neill
Years active: 2010 to present
Clubs: Melbourne, North Queensland
Club games to 2018: 161 (65 tries)
Representative Career: Tests: 2, Queensland: 4

Justin O’Neill is a talented sportsman. Before committing to rugby league, he held the under-15 Australian long jump record. Signed by Melbourne as a teenager, he played in the club’s 2009 under-20s premiership win.

O’Neill had a bright start to his senior career Melbourne, scoring nine tries in as many games in the club’s 2010 season, when they played for no points. O’Neill scored a try from the wing in the Storm’s 2012 grand final victory, but moved to North Queensland after an injury-riddled year in 2014.

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After being part of the 2015 grand final team, it looked like O’Neill would become an elite centre. He had scored tries in that year’s semi-final, preliminary final and grand final. O’Neill was picked for all three matches in Queensland’s 2016 Origin series victory and was selected for Australia for two of the three preliminary matches in the 2016 Four Nations before losing his spot to Josh Dugan.

However, the two-time premiership winner was dropped by Queensland after the first game of the 2017 series and despite playing centre in the 2017 grand final loss to Melbourne, O’Neill has struggled to regain his top form ever since. But the signs have been good this year, with O’Neill scoring eight tries in as many appearances to date.

5. Corey Oates
Years active: 2013 to present
Clubs: Brisbane
Club games (to 2018): 120 (79 tries)
Representative Career: Queensland: 5

Maroons player Corey Oates crosses over to score

(AAP Image/Dave Hunt)

Corey Oates is still trying to find his way into the forward pack, but at this point he’d be better off continuing to hone his considerable ability to find the try line.

Oates has an uncanny knack for the spectacular corner put-down, and coupled with his powerful kick returns, this makes him an attractive package on the wing, ignoring the odd handling issue.

Oates debuted for Brisbane in 2013 as a teenager and scored eight tries in only nine games that year. In 2014 he was used as a second-rower and bench player but in 2015 he was back on the wing, scoring 14 tries from 25 games, including a try in the grand final, lost to the Cowboys in golden point.

Oates has scored at least 15 tries in each season since and at the end of 2018 had 78 tries from only 120 appearances, including four in one match against Manly in 2018, equaling the club record. Nine tries to date in 2019 show Oates has lost none of his potency.

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Oates played wing for Queensland for the entire 2016 winning State of Origin series, but along with a few others was dropped after Queensland lost the first game in 2017, despite scoring the Maroons’ only points. He returned for the injured Greg Inglis in Game 3 2018 as Queensland won to avoid a whitewash.

6. Wally O’Connell (Captain)
Honours: Nominated for ARL Hall of Fame 2018. Medal of the Order of Australia
Years active: 1942-1952
Clubs: Eastern Suburbs, Brothers Wollongong, Manly
Club games: 123 (Sydney only) (35 tries, 7 goals)
Representative Career: Tests: 10. NSW: 5

Wally O’Connell was small in stature – five foot three and a half – but his blindside running and courageous defence made him a great of the game. He debuted for Easts in 1942 and played in their 1945 grand final triumph. However, despite representing City in 1943, O’Connell didn’t break into the NSW side until 1948 when called up due to an injury to Ken Stephens.

His career took off from there, being selected for the 1948 series against NZ and touring with the 1948 Kangaroos. O’Connell captained Australia for the first Test on tour. This was a tough tour for the Australians through post-war Britain, with rationing meaning decent food was scarce.

O’Connell visited Ireland during the tour, and to great acclaim from his team-mates, brought back 20 kilograms of steaks from the Australian ambassador in Dublin.

While on tour, O’Connell and fellow tourists Bruce Hopkins and Keith Froome created an act miming Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters and ended up performing at the Celebrity Club and the Tivoli Theatre twice a week, earning 50 pounds per week from each theatre when the average wage was around six pounds a week.

On his return to Australia, O’Connell spent a season in Wollongong where he played in the NSW Country side that defeated Queensland and was selected for the 1949 Test series against NZ. He then signed with Manly, however a dispute between Easts and Manly saw O’Connell sit out the 1950 season and miss the Ashes that year.

O’Connell captain-coached Manly for the next two years but missed their first ever grand final appearance in 1951 due to a broken wrist. He last played for Australia against France in 1951.

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At the time of his death in 2017, O’Connell was Australia’s oldest living Test captain.

7. Greg Oliphant
Years active: 1970-1981
Clubs: Wests Brisbane (QLD), Valleys (QLD), Redcliffe (QLD), Balmain
Representative Career: Tests: 2. Queensland: 7

Apologies to Matt Orford who won the Dally M in 2008, but he never did play rep football, so instead I’m going with the Queensland half who played in the first State of Origin, Greg Oliphant.

Oliphant was a Queensland rugby league stalwart during the 1970s, playing over 280 games in the Brisbane competition for Wests, Valleys and Redcliffe. He was halfback for Wests’ back-to-back premierships in 1975 and 1976, winning man of the match in 1975, and played in a grand final for Redcliffe in 1981.

Oliphant played two Tests in 1978 against NZ – one from the bench when he came on and played as a winger – and was selected for the 1978 Kangaroo Tour, although he played no Tests on tour, being understudy to Tom Raudonikis. After the tour he was signed by Balmain and played two seasons for the Tigers in the Sydney competition.

Oliphant had a great rivalry with Raudonikis, who also toured with the 1978 Kangaroos, and they had some fiery clashes at club and state level. It started in 1977 Raudonikis was angry at being selected on the bench for NSW and once he came on he singled Oliphant out for special attention, even belting him while he was receiving ambulance attention for an injury.

They had a boxing match for charity in 1980, won by Raudonikis on a TKO after he had allegedly elbowed Oliphant and cut him near his eye. However, Oliphant did name Tommy as the best NSW player he played against.

After representing Queensland between 1976 and 1978, a veteran Oliphant was one of the Sydney-based players selected for the first State of Origin match in 1980, won by Queensland.

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He played a part in sparking an all-in brawl in that match after clipping NSW’s Graeme Wynn around the head and being punched in return. Artie Beetson waded in and the rest is history. Interestingly both Beetson and Oliphant were sent down to reserve grade for their Sydney clubs after the game.

After an indifferent year for the Tigers in 1980, Oliphant returned to Brisbane in 1981 and finished his career with Redcliffe, where he played for Brisbane in the mid-week Tooth Cup against Newtown.

8. John O’Neill
Honours: ARL Hall of Fame. Souths and Manly Dream Teams.
Years active: 1965-1976
Clubs: South Sydney, Manly
All games: 272 (23 tries)
Representative Career: Tests: 10, NSW: 5

‘Lurch’ O’Neill was one of league’s hardest men in a hard era. O’Neill was a cornerstone for two of the most successful clubs of the era, as well as for NSW and Australia.

O’Neill won six premierships in all for Souths and Manly from eight grand finals, making him one of the most successful players of all time. In fact, O’Neill missed playing in the grand final only twice in his ten-year career.

As part of a Souths pack including John Sattler, Ron Coote and Bob McCarthy, O’Neill terrorised the competition, winning four titles. This included 1970, when O’Neill led the pack after Sattler famously had his jaw broken.

After the 1970 grand final, O’Neill was picked for the World Cup and played his role as enforcer in the final. He also played in the 1972 and 1975 World Cups.

Brought by Manly to take them from a finals team to premiership winners, O’Neill delivered, having a hand in the club’s 1972 and 1973 triumphs.

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After a brutal running battle with Cliff Watson in the 1973 decider, O’Neill was selected for the 1973 Kangaroo Tour and played one Test against France. In 1974 O’Neill was part of the Australian side that won the third and deciding Ashes Test.

John Sattler wrote in his autobiography Glory, Glory: My Life: “If you are going to war, John O’Neill is a man you want beside you in the trenches.”

9. Claud O’Donnell
Years active: 1915-1923
Clubs: Glebe, South Sydney, Carltons (QLD), Ipswich, North Sydney
Club games: 62 (NSW only) (1 try, 1 goal)
Representative Career: Tests: 4, Queensland: 15

Claud O’Donnell represented NSW and Australia in rugby union in 1912-13 before switching to league with Glebe in 1915.

He played for Glebe for three years – for one second and one third place – then moved to South Sydney in 1918 when he played every game as the club won the premiership.

O’Donnell then moved to Brisbane, playing for Carltons. The club won a premiership during those years and he is listed on their honours board as an international, but I cannot find any record of O’Donnell in first grade lists. At some point in those years O’Donnell also played for Ipswich.

O’Donnell represented Queensland 15 times, including six interstate matches and one match against Great Britain between 1919 and 1922. He was hooker when Queensland won their first ever interstate game in 1922. In 1919 he was selected for Australia’s tour of NZ and played four Tests.

O’Donnell moved back to NSW in 1923 to finish his career with North Sydney.

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10. Bob O’Reilly
Honours: Clive Churchill Medal 1981
Years active: 1967-1982
Clubs: Parramatta, Penrith, Easts
Club games: 284 (37 tries)
Representative Career: Tests: 16, NSW: 9

They don’t come much tougher than Bob ‘Bear’ O’Reilly.

O’Reilly packed down in the engine room for 16 seasons in the Sydney competition, and at the time of his retirement held the record for most premiership games. He finally won a grand final in 1981 at the start of the Parramatta dynasty and was retrospectively awarded a Clive Churchill Medal as man of the match.

A chronic ankle injury in 1982 ended his career and prevented him winning a second premiership.

O’Reilly played 16 Tests for Australia, highlighted by the 1970 World Cup victory in England on his first tour. He was at his representative peak in the early 1970s, touring NZ in 1971 and participating in the 1972 World Cup and 1973 Kangaroo Tour.

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In 1980, O’Reilly and Artie Beetson both spent time in reserve grade for Parramatta and would probably have formed the most intimidating lower grade front row in history.

11. Kel O’Shea
Honours: ARL Hall of Fame, Queensland Sports Hall of Fame, Wests Tigers Team of the Century, North Queensland Team of the Century, ARL Team of the 1950s
Years active: 1953-1965
Clubs: Ayr Colts (QLD), Souths Brisbane (QLD), Wests Sydney, Maitland
All games: 177 (50 tries)
Representative Career: Tests: 20, Queensland: 8, NSW: 8

Kel O’Shea was a North Queensland and Wests legend. He was first picked for Queensland while playing for Ayr in country Queensland in 1953, where he won a Foley Shield.

After stamping himself as a star for Queensland in their drawn series with NSW that year, he was selected for Australia in 1954. This was after being named that year as Queensland’s player of the interstate series, receiving a plaque and a dressing gown. O’Shea scored a try in his first Test, a resounding victory over Great Britain.

After knocking back an offer from Manly in 1954, O’Shea was lured to Sydney in 1956 by Wests, who at the time were tagged ‘The Millionaires’ for all the talent they were acquiring. Just 20 years later they were the fibros to Manly’s silvertails.

O’Shea looked the goods, immediately scoring two tries in his debut for the club. He played in two losing grand finals for the club as they tried in vain to break St George’s 11 premiership streak. He missed a further two through injury. O’Shea’s last game for the Magpies was their controversial loss in the 1963 decider, which provides the basis for the Summons-Provan premiership trophy.

O’Shea left Sydney after eight years with Wests. He played a final two seasons for Maitland in country NSW, captaining them to a premiership.

At representative level, O’Shea formed a formidable pairing with his club rival, St George’s Norm Provan, who said of O’Shea on NRL.com: “He had more speed over the paddock than any second-rower I ever saw.”

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The English press called them ‘Sticks’ (Provan) and ‘Twigs’ (O’Shea). O’Shea toured with the 1956 Kangaroos, playing all six Tests and played in the 1954 and 1957 World Cups.

In some trivia, O’Shea played for Queensland against the touring American All-Stars in 1953. Queensland won 39-36. Given Queensland drew the interstate series that year, the Americans must have been pretty handy.

12. Arthur Oxford (goalkicker)
Years active: 1915-1929
Clubs: South Sydney, Eastern Suburbs, Brothers Rockhampton (QLD)
Club games (NSW): 179 (36 tries, 378 goals)
Representative Career: Tests: 5, NSW: 17, Queensland: 1

Arthur Oxford was a second-rower, hooker, prop and noted point-scorer for Souths and Easts. His 864 career points was a NSWRL record for 20 years.

In 1917, Oxford was chosen in a combined NSWRL side to play the three-time premiers, Balmain. The Tigers won 13-10, but Oxford kicked two goals.

That year he also played for the Rest of NSW against the Kangaroos in a warm-up, with the NSW side winning, Oxford scoring a try and kicking four goals.

In 1918 Oxford was a member of the Souths premiership-winning side and in 1919 he first represented NSW and Australia. In the 1919 series against NZ, Oxford played hooker and prop and despite kicking six goals in the first Test, relinquished the kicking duties to Harold Horder and Frank Burge for the remaining matches. In 1920 he kicked 23 consecutive goals for Souths, a record at the time.

In 1922 Oxford scored a try and kicked eight goals for NSW Seconds as they beat NZ Maori. Also in 1922, Oxford against scored a try for an Australasia II side against the Kangaroos.

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After moving to Easts, Oxford was the season’s top point-scorer as they won the 1923 premiership. He represented Australia again in 1924 against Great Britain.

Oxford moved to Rockhampton Brothers and represented Queensland for one game in their winning 1925 interstate series. At NSW’s demand he had to serve a 12-month residential period before becoming eligible for Queensland, as did Harold Horder.

13. Luke O’Donnell
Years active: 1999-2013
Clubs: Balmain, Wests Tigers, North QLD, Huddersfield (UK), Sydney Roosters
Club games: 215 (29 tries)
Representative Career: Tests: 11, NSW 5

Luke O'Donnell of the Roosters

(Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

At lock we have the intimidating, destructive, regularly suspended Luke O’Donnell.

O’Donnell started his career at Balmain, being sin-binned in his opening match, and moved onto the merged Wests Tigers. His time at the club ended in 2003 after copping an 11-week suspension for breaking the jaw of Michael Monaghan, at the time the longest suspension in NRL history.

O’Donnell moved to the North Queensland Cowboys and it was here that he hit his straps and broke into both the NSW and Australian teams.

O’Donnell was the club’s player of the year in 2004 and gained his first NSW jersey in 2005. After playing in the Cowboys’ grand final loss that year, he was selected for the 2005 Tri-nations and played in Australia’s final loss to NZ. He played all Tests in that tournament and further six Tests in 2006, culminating in the 2006 Tri-nations final when Australia turned the tables on the Kiwis.

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O’Donnell’s NSW appearances were limited by injury and suspension and he only was on the winning side once in five games from 2006 to 2010.

O’Donnell continued to play well for the Cowboys, notwithstanding a seven-week suspension in 2007 sandwiched between two send-offs in 2006 and 2008 respectively. In 2009 he was the Cowboys’ player of the year for a second time.

He had time for another three-week suspension in 2010 for a dangerous tackle on Darius Boy in State of Origin, before heading to England to finish his career.

After two difficult years with Huddersfield in the English Super League – although he was selected for the Exiles representative team – O’Donnell returned to Australia with the Sydney Roosters in 2013. His uncompromising approach was an important part of the Roosters winning the premiership that year.

At the time of his retirement, O’Donnell had been suspended for a grand total of 29 weeks plus three in England, making him the most suspended player in NRL history.

O’Donnell once told The Courier Mail: “Some guys are happy to rack up 45 tackles around the bootlaces, but I always like to put my body on the line.”

Bench

14. Larry O’Malley
Eastern Suburbs, Warrington (UK) – 1908-1914. Tests: 5, NSW: 9.

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Forward. Three-time premiership winner for Easts. On the 1908 Kangaroo Tour played in more matches than any other player in the history of overseas tours (35, despite being sent off twice). In 1909 he captained Australia in two Tests against NZ.

15. Mark O’Meley
North Sydney, Northern Eagles, Canterbury, Sydney Roosters, Hull FC (UK) – 1999-2013. Tests: 15, NSW: 10.

Prop. Hard-running, crazy-eyed metre-eater. 2004 Bulldogs Premiership winner. Three-time Tri-nations representative for Australia.

16. Graeme Olling
Eastern Suburbs, Parramatta – 1972-1980. Tests: 6. NSW: 3.

Prop. Two-time grand finalist for Parramatta. Admitted to taking steroids before it was illegal. 1978 Kangaroo tourist.

17. Alf ‘Itchy’ O’Connor and Frank ‘Cussy’ O’Connor
South Sydney – 1922-1929 and 1927-1939. Tests: 3 for Alf 4 for Frank, NSW: 13 each.

Second row. Couldn’t split the brothers, both three time-time premiership winners for the Rabbitohs.

The only honourable mention is Matt Orford (half), the 2008 Dally M Player of the Year. He could easily have slotted in, but I value playing rep footy.

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And there you have the O Team. Rough and tough but maybe lacking some class compared to other sides.

Next time we look at the Ps, a very unbalanced side with lots of great back-rowers.