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

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Roar Guru
25th June, 2019
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Continuing our search for the winner of the Alphabet Cup, we now come to the R Team.

They have some serious strike power in the three-quarter line, one of the most competitive players of all time at half and a forward pack and bench that can only be described as hard.

1. Mat Rogers

Honours: Dally M rookie of the year 1995, Dally M representative player of the year 1999, Cronulla team of the half century
Years active: 1995–2011
Clubs: Cronulla, Gold Coast
Club games: 200 (107 tries, 465 goals, 2 field goals)
Representative career:: Tests: 11; QLD: 8.

Before he became Australia’s favourite Survivor – and even before he reached the semi-finals of Dancing with the Stars – Mat Rogers was a dual international and a supremely talented footballer, very nearly as good as his father. Rogers moved to the Gold Coast as a child and played for the Australian Schoolboys rugby union team. But in 1995 Rogers decided on rugby league and joined his dad’s old club, Cronulla.

Rogers played seven seasons for the Sharks and scored over 1000 points. He held records for most points in a season and most career points at the club – in all grades; his father owns the first-grade record – and was part of the Sharks’ 1997 Super League grand final team, losing to the Broncos.

Rogers first represented Queensland during Super League – he could have represented either state but chose Queensland – and when the competitions came back together in 1998 he established himself in the state and national teams. He was the top pointscorer at the 2000 World Cup. In all Rogers scored 168 points for the Kangaroos in only 11 Tests. He once scored four tries in a Test against Fiji and also kicked 13 goals in a Test against Papua New Guinea.

His record for Queensland was less impressive, winning only one from five State of Origin games, the highlight being Rogers scoring all Queensland’s points, including a late field goal, to win the opening match of the 1999 series.

Rogers suffered a serious injury during the 2000 World Cup that restricted him to only a few games in 2001. He was then lured to rugby union and played 45 Tests for the Wallabies, including in the 2003 World Cup.

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After five seasons in rugby union Rogers returned to rugby league for the Gold Coast Titans for their inaugural season, in which he topped the try-scoring. He went on to play four seasons for the Titans before retiring in 2010. He made a comeback in 2011, but it only lasted one game, with a broken foot pushing Rogers to retirement once again. Over his career he scored exactly 100 tries and over 1300 points.

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2. Albert Rosenfeld

Honours: ARL hall of fame, British Rugby League hall of fame
Years active: 1908-24
Clubs: Eastern Suburbs, Huddersfield (UK), Wakefield Trinity (UK), Bradford Northern (UK)
All games: 413 (423 tries, 1281 points)
Representative career:: Tests: 5, NSW: 4.
Nickname: ‘Rozzy’.

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But for the love of a woman Albert Rosenfeld could have become one of the most famous names in Australian rugby league. Instead his astonishing career was played primarily on the freezing fields of Northern England.

Rosenfeld was a rugby league pioneer in Australia and in 1907 played in the very first rugby league match in the country for New South Wales against the touring New Zealand All Golds. In 1908 he also played for Eastern Suburbs against Newtown in the first-ever premiership match in Australia.

Primarily a five-eighth, Rosenfeld played all three matches in Australia’s first-ever Test series against New Zealand. He also toured with the first-ever Kangaroos in 1908 – he was not originally picked but was added to the squad after a public outcry – playing in one Test match and 13 other matches on the tour.

While on tour Rosenfeld signed to play with Huddersfield after falling in love with a local miller’s daughter, who he went on to marry. He went home to Australia and played four games for New South Wales against New Zealand, scoring four tries in one match, before returning to England.

He moved onto the wing with his new club and the rest is history.

Rosenfeld became arguably the most effective try-scorer in rugby league history – though Brian Bevan may disagree. He broke the world record for tries in one season with 78 in 1911–12. But to make sure it was not a fluke, he bettered it with 80 tries in the following season, a record that still stands more than 100 years later.

In his Huddersfield years he scored 366 tries from only 287 matches. He won four Yorkshire County Cups with the club – a big deal in those days – scoring a try in each final, five championships and two Challenge Cups.

His prime years were ended by war. Rosenfeld enlisted in the British Army and did not play between 1916 and 1919 as he saw action in Mesopotamia. He never quite reached the same heights upon his return, although he played for a further five seasons. At the time of his death at 85 years old Rosenfeld was the last living original Kangaroo tourist.

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Rosenfeld is one of only two players to be in both the British and Australian rugby league halls of fame. According to the British historian Robert Gate, “He was the perfect running machine at the end of a sublime backline.”

3. Steve Rogers (goal kicker)

Honours: ARL hall of fame, NSWRL team of the century, Rothmans Medal 1975, Dally M Medal, captain of the year and lock of the year 1981, Cronulla team of the half century
Years active: 1973-86
Clubs: Cronulla, St George, Widnes (UK)
Club games: 352 (147 tries, 1752 points)
Representative career:: Tests: 24, NSW: 21.
Nickname: ‘Sludge’

This is the second father-son combination in these teams. Steve Rogers was a supremely talented excitement machine at centre for the Sharks, New South Wales and Australia. At representative level Rogers formed a great partnership with Mick Cronin with their contrasting styles – Cronin the solid, tough and clever player and Rogers the silky speedster. They played 14 Tests together, losing only twice.

Rogers was all speed and footwork, but he was also a great defender, as shown in his later years when he was crowned the competition’s best player in 1981 as a lock forward.

In one of the great debut years an 18-year old Rogers scored 119 points for the Sharks, played in their 1973 grand final loss, played two games for New South Wales – scoring a try in each – and was selected for the Kangaroo tour, although he did not make his Test debut.

Injury ruined his 1974 season, but by 1975 he was entrenched in the New South Wales and Australian teams and won the Rothmans Medal as the game’s best player. He was a member of Australia’s World Cup squads in 1975 and 1977 and captained the Sharks in their 1978 grand final draw against Manly and in the losing replay.

Rogers toured with the Kangaroos again in 1978 and with the 1982 Invincibles, who were the first team to go through the tour undefeated. In 1981 Rogers captained Australia against France. Of the 24 Tests he played in, Rogers lost only three.

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Steve was also a prolific pointscorer and held the all-time first-grade record for the Sharks – his son holds the record for all grades – although the presence of Cronin meant he kicked only four goals for Australia.

Rogers spent a couple of injury-plagued years with St George in 1983 and 1984. On returning to Cronulla he had his jaw broken after one match and retired from Australian rugby league. He moved to England but broke his leg in his first game, which forced his retirement.

Incidentally Rogers played his first senior football in Southport and represented Brisbane Seconds, so he should have represented Queensland under Origin eligibility rules.

Reg Gasnier said, “Class was the word that summed him up. That speed and agility, that ability to read a game so well. To me he was in the very top drawer of centre three-quarters. All of those abilities put him ahead of the others.”

Bob Fulton added, “Sludge was one of a very rare breed in the game – the player who could do everything. I rate him the most naturally gifted player that I played with or against. A complete footballer.”

4. Steve Renouf

Honours: ARL hall of fame nominee 2018, Indigenous team of the century
Years active: 1988-2001
Clubs: Brisbane, Wigan (UK), Easts Brisbane (QLD)
Club games: 242 185 tries)
Representative career:: Tests: 11, QLD: 13.
Nickname: ‘Pearl’.

Possessing pure acceleration, a cracking fend and one of the best swerves in the business, the Pearl was a joy to watch. He had three standout moments in a career filled with them: that 90-metre grand final try in 1992, getting on the outside of his man via a sublime Kevin Walters pass to win the 1992 World Cup and his 20-metre burst of acceleration that allowed Queensland to score the ‘miracle’ try in Game 1 of the 1994 Origin series.

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Renouf was also a member of the Broncos team that won the 1992 World Club Challenge, the first Australian team to win in England, and defended its premiership in 1993. He scored 23 tries in the 1994 season and later scored a hat-trick in Brisbane’s 1997 Super League grand final victory. A further title in 1998 made it four in his career.

In all he crossed 142 times for Brisbane from just 183 appearances. Add his 43 tries from 59 games at Wigan and his representative record and Renouf scored 203 career tries. Renouf scored four tries in a match five times and topped ten tries in a season eight years in a row.

Renouf finished his career in the UK with Wigan, helping the club to back to back championship grand finals. On his return to Australia he joined Darren Smith in playing in the Brisbane competition for Easts.

Roy Masters said, “Renouf was a rugby league centre who ran with such speed, grace and élan that you sensed this is how God wants football to be played.”

5. John Ribot de Bresac

Honours: Dally M winger of the year 1980 and 1982
Years active: 1973-85
Clubs: Valleys (QLD), Wests Brisbane (QLD), Newtown, Western Suburbs, Manly, Redcliffe (QLD)
Club games (excluding Wests Brisbane and Valleys) 157 (91 tries, 46 goals)
Representative career:: Tests: 9, QLD: 10, NSW: 2

John Ribot is better known as the administrator who was a driving force in setting up the Brisbane Broncos, Melbourne Storm and Super League. But before all that Ribot was an accomplished winger in the Queensland and New South Wales club competitions who represented both states and Australia.

Ribot played for a number of years in the Brisbane competition for Valleys and then Wests, where he won the premiership in 1976, and represented Queensland in 1977 as a lock. He was also a goal kicker in that series, but he was spectacularly unsuccessful, kicking two goals from 12 attempts across the two matches, the second of which was lost by a single point.

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Ribot moved to Newtown, and although he was selected for City and for New South Wales in the second row, the change did not take and he returned to Queensland. He then was picked up by the Wests Magpies, who turned him into a winger. The move was a success, with Ribot being the competition’s top try scorer in 1980. In 1981 Ribot returned to the NSW side and made his debut for Australia against France.

In 1982 Ribot moved to Manly and made his State of Origin debut for Queensland, scoring in each of his first two matches, as well as playing for Australia against New Zealand. He played in Manly’s grand final loss to Parramatta and was selected for the 1982 Kangaroo tour as one of the Invincibles.

Ribot scored 20 tries for Manly in 1983, but after the Sea Eagles again lost the grand final to Parramatta he returned to Queensland and played for Redcliffe, winning the QRL press player of the year in 1985. He continued to play for Queensland and Australia, and perhaps his finest moment was scoring a try in the second Test against New Zealand in 1985 to save Australia from defeat. In all Ribot scored nine tries in nine Tests, including four in one match against Papua New Guinea in 1982.

Ribot scored well over 100 tries in all competitions across his career.

6. Geoff Richardson

Years active: 1974-76
Clubs: Wests Brisbane (QLD)
Representative career:: Tests: 2

Geoff Richardson played nine Tests for the Wallabies at flyhalf, including as captain in one minor match, before moving to rugby league and becoming a dual international. Richardson switched in 1974 and had an immediate impact. The normally outmatched Queensland side managed to draw with New South Wales in two of the three interstate matches that year.

Richardson also played for the Combined Brisbane side that defeated the touring Great Britain side 20-15 and the Queensland team that lost to the British by a single point. As a result, Richardson played the first two Tests against the touring British. After a loss in the second Test his position was taken by Tim Pickup.

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In 1975 Queensland won the first interstate match of the series against New South Wales, making them undefeated in three games across 1974 and 1975. The win was Queensland’s last before State of Origin five years later. They lost the decider and the series that year by a single point. This extremely competitive state team were paid $50 per game, compared to $30,000 for the current squad. The Queensland team had been promised a trip to Fiji if they won the 1975 series, but instead they lost by a point in the decider and received a pair of beach towels.

Richardson scored an intercept try in the 1975 series. In an interview with the Daily Telegraph in 2015 he said, “Artie turned his back and looked to pop the ball to Bob Fulton and I got between them and ran 50m to score.

People would say to me that they didn’t know I was that fast and I’d say, ‘If you had half the NSW team chasing you you’d run pretty fast too’.”

Richardson’s pinpoint kicking game was a revelation in the Brisbane competition. In his three years at Wests Panthers in the Brisbane competition, Richardson won the 1975 and 1976 premierships, the second won by the odd score of 16-1. Sadly for rugby league, he retired at just 27 to pursue his teaching career, which he did for 46 years. Richardson was named in the BRL Team of the 1970s.

Steeden Rugby League Generic

(Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)

7. Tom Raudonikis, OAM

Honours: ARL hall of fame, NSW Sports hall of fame, Wests Magpies and Wests Tigers teams of the century, Order of Australia Medal
Years active: 1969-83
Clubs: Western Suburbs, Newtown, Brothers Brisbane (QLD)
All games: 403 (79 tries)
Representative career:: Tests: 29, NSW: 24.
Nickname: ‘Tommy Terrific’.

The man with the raspy voice, Tommy Raudonikis was the first choice halfback for New South Wales and Australia through the 1970s. An extremely rugged competitor, Raudonikis saw off all challenges throughout his career and finally reached a grand final with the Jets in 1981, falling to Parramatta despite a standout performance, including a great solo try. His tough-guy persona masked an impressive talent, with great vision and organising ability.

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Raudonikis won a Rothmans Medal as the competition’s best player in 1972. He went on two Kangaroo tours in 1973 and 1978, participated in the 1975 and 1977 World Cups and captained Australia in two Tests, including the third and deciding Test on the 1973 Kangaroo tour, won by the Australians. He played for Australia in every year from 1972 to 1980.

At state level Raudonikis represented 24 times, including captaining the Blues in the first-ever State of Origin match in 1980.

Raudonikis was famous for his rivalries with Steve Mortimer and with Greg Oliphant – and, well everyone really – fronting up to the latter in a boxing match for charity.

At club level Raudonikis was instrumental in turning Wests from a weak side to one that regularly made finals football, with a ‘Fibros’ image as a limited but tough, driven team. On moving to Newtown, he was able to turn the struggling club from a lower table team to one that made a grand final. He was captain of Wests or Newtown from 1971 to 1982.

Raudonikis is also famous for laying into Greg Oliphant in an interstate match while the latter was being attended on the sideline. He was also outed by rugby league Week in 1975 as ‘The Phantom Biter’.

Greg Oliphant said, “There were quicker and more skilful halfbacks around than Tommy, but none smarter or tougher.”

8. Steve Roach

Honours: ARL hall of fame; Dally M prop of the year 1984, 1986 and 1989; NSW Country team of the century; Wests Tigers team of the century
Years active: 1982-92
Clubs: Balmain, Warrington (UK)
All games: 287 (24 tries)
Representative career:: Tests: 19, NSW 17
Nickname: ‘Blocker’
Roy and HG nickname: ‘Blockhead’

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Steve Roach is another whose larger-than-life persona has overshadowed to some extent what a great player he was. Roach was the leading prop in the game in the late 1980s, who could mix toughness and durability with silky ball skills.

Roach was a mainstay for New South Wales in the 1980s and into the 1990s, a highlight being the 1986 first-ever State of Origin clean sweep.

Roach was first selected for Australia in 1985 and scored a try on debut against New Zealand. He was the first-choice prop from then on barring injuries, which cut short his 1986 Kangaroo tour and led to him missing much of the 1987 season.

Regular trouble with match officials saw him overlooked for the 1989 Origin series, but he was still picked for Australia against New Zealand. In 1990 injury and suspension – the latter for patting referee Eddie Ward on the head – prevented more New South Wales appearances, but he played all Tests on the 1990 Kangaroo tour. Australia only lost three matches with Roach in the team.

For Balmain, Roach was part of one of the great modern packs, including Wayne Pearce, Paul Sironen and Benny Elias. The team reached back-to-back grand finals in 1988 and 1989 but failed to win the premiership. They came agonisingly close in 1989 and Roach and Sironen were looking on from the bench, having been replaced, as Canberra scored a late equaliser and then won in extra time. Roach also missed the 1988 grand final due to suspension despite a late bid to serve his ban in England and return for the game.

Roach, according to Era of the Biff, said, “I just did things on the spur of the moment. If I had a minute to stop and think I probably wouldn’t have done a lot of them. But I never gouged or bit or kicked anyone – I never did anything I was ashamed of.”

9. Billy Rayner

Honours: Parramatta hall of fame
Years active: 1956-67
Clubs: Parramatta
Club games: 203 (6 tries)
Representative career:: Tests: 2, NSW: 2.
Nickname: Spaceman.

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Billy Rayner was a Parramatta stalwart who played over 200 games for the club, and I’m pretty sure he will be the only player on these lists to have won six wooden spoons in row, which happened in his first six years at the club. Originally from Yass, Rayner was spotted representing Monaro against the touring Great Britain side in 1955.

In addition to his two interstate matches and two Tests against France in 1960, Rayner was selected in the 1960 World Cup squad – but he didn’t play any matches– and played for a Rest of the World team against Great Britain. Further opportunities were limited playing in an era alongside Noel Kelly, Ian Walsh and Ken Kearney.

Rayner did know a thing or two about scrums back in the day when winning the scrums meant something. In 1962 Rayner spanked Noel Kelly 23-9 in the scrums in Parramatta’s first semi-final appearance and a frustrated Kelly ended up getting sent off for punching in a scrum with a few minutes to go. Despite this dominance the Eels lost the match 6-0.

10. Ian Roberts

Honours: Dally M prop of the year 1987, 1993 and 1994; South Sydney dream team
Years active: 1986-98
Clubs: South Sydney, Wigan (UK), Manly, North QLD
Club games: 213 (15 tries)
Representative career:: Tests: 13, NSW: 11.

This was an extremely tight contest, and when you get to the bench you will see why, but Ian Roberts gets it as one of the toughest most underrated props I ever saw.

Roberts began with three finals series in four years at the South Sydney and was described by Jack Gibson as the best front rower in the game.

Roberts came of age with Manly, winning New South Wales and Australian selection, although he missed the 1990 Kangaroo tour through injury. He formed a fearsome New South Wales front-row combination with Steve Roach and then with Glenn Lazarus, winning three from four Origin series in the early 1990s. Until Roach retired, Lazarus had to be content with a bench spot behind Roberts. At international level Roberts represented 13 times losing only twice, including touring with the 1994 Kangaroos.

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Roberts was at times limited by injury – he only played 20 games in a season twice, in his first two years at Souths – and he missed Manly’s 1996 grand final victory. Despite this he played in seven finals series in his first 11 years, missing a further two through injury, including Manly’s 1995 grand final loss to Canterbury. He was named the competition’s best prop on three occasions.

Roberts sat out the 1996 season and joined North Queensland during Super League. He played a final two seasons as captain there before injuries and time caught up with him.

After his career Roberts graduated from the National Institute of Dramatic Art in 2003 and had minor acting roles in Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones and Superman Returns.

Ian Roberts in action for Australia

Ian Roberts (Anton Want/Getty Images)

11. Rod Reddy

Honours: ARL hall of fame 2018 nominee
Years active: 1972-89
Clubs: Brothers Rockhampton (QLD), St George, Illawarra, Barrow (UK)
Club games (NSWRL): 237 (66 tries, 1 goal)
Representative career:: Tests: 17, NSW: 13, QLD: 1.
Nickname: ‘Rocket’

The ‘Rockhampton Rocket’ came to St George from Rockhampton Brothers as an 18-year-old centre, where he was named in their team of the century along with Duncan Hall, and Reddy retained those attacking instincts and speed when he moved to the back row. But he was also an enforcer in the old style. He was a star of the 1977 Bath’s Babes team that won the premiership after a drawn grand final against Parramatta. In the grand final replay Reddy went ballistic and his brutal play contributed to the Dragons comprehensive victory.

Reddy was picked for the 1977 World Cup and toured with the 1978 Kangaroos, where he was man of the match in the first Test against Great Britain. Reddy again put on an old-school display of brutality in the 1979 grand final as St George defeated Canterbury. He represented Australia in the 3-0 Ashes clean sweep that year, scoring tries in each of the final two Tests.

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Reddy represented New South Wales 11 times for 11 wins before getting to represent Queensland in the first State of Origin match in 1980. He never lost a state match.

Despite not representing at state level since 1980, Reddy was selected for the 1982 Kangaroo tour and played in all three Tests against Great Britain before a final appearance against France. After over 200 games for the Dragons Reddy switched to the Illawarra Steelers in 1984 and played two seasons with the club before finishing his career as captain-coach of English club Barrow.

From esteemed Roar expert Matt Cleary: “I played golf with an old North Sydney Bear once, Johnny Adam, who told me in his debut game, Rocket gave him a real going over in a tackle – elbows, head butts, the works. Not so strange, you think, given the times? Perhaps. Except Rocket had the ball.”

12. Jack Rayner (captain)

Honours: South Sydney’s dream team coach, Souths hall of fame.
Years active: 1946-57
Clubs: Souths
Representative career:: Tests: 5, NSW: 16.

This is a contentious decision. There are other candidates who may have had greater representative careers, but Jack Rayner makes the squad and is captain due to his stellar leadership career with South Sydney.

After serving in Papua New Guinea in World War II, Rayner played 12 seasons for the Rabbitohs from 1946 and led the team to five premierships in the 1950s. He was captain of the team for ten years and captain-coach for eight despite the presence of the national captain, Immortal Clive Churchill in the team. First appointed captain in 1947, Rayner led the Rabbitohs to the grand final for seven years straight from 1949 to 1955, winning five. His five premierships as captain is a record only matched by St George’s Ken Kearney. At the time of his retirement Rayner held the record for most games for the club.

Rayner first represented New South Wales in 1947 and the following year played for Australia against New Zealand, scoring a try on debut, and against England on the Kangaroo tour. He had made his final international appearance by 1949 as newer players came along, such as Norm Provan and Kel O’Shea, although he was brought back to play for New South Wales in 1954.

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In True Blue Clive Churchill said of Rayner, “He was a brilliant tactician. I never saw a better forward in cover defence on the blind side than Rayner. Jack was the crankiest forward I played with but what a grand fellow he was.”

Old and recent Rugby League greats (L-R:) Reg Gasnier, Laurie Daly, Jack Rayner, Gary Inglis and John Raper pose for photographs at the National Museum in Canberra, Monday, Nov. 27, 2006. (AAP Image/Alan Porritt)

Left to right: Reg Gasnier, Laurie Daly, Jack Rayner, Gary Inglis and John Raper (AAP Image/Alan Porritt)

13. John Raper, MBE

Honours: Rugby league Immortal, ARL hall of fame, ARL team of the century, NSWRL team of the century, Australian Sports hall of fame legend, NSW Sports hall of fame legend, NSWRL player of the year 1961 and 1965
Years active: 1957-74
Clubs: Newtown, St George, Wests Newcastle, Kurri Kurri (NSW)
All games: 377 (96 tries, 298 points)
Representative career:: Tests: 39, NSW 24
Nickname: ‘Chook’

Locking the scrum for the Rs is the player many consider to be the best of all, Johnny Raper. Raper won eight premierships in a row with the famous St George team of the 1960s and was also the mainstay of the Australian team that took the ascendancy from the British. A copybook tackler and brilliant cover defender, Raper also had unmatched game awareness, endurance and intensity.

After a single season at Newtown during which he represented Sydney Colts against the touring British, Raper moved to the Dragons and immediately stood apart even in that team of stars. In 1959 Raper represented New South Wales, Australia against New Zealand, toured with the Kangaroos and starred as St George won the premiership undefeated.

Raper made three Kangaroo tours and was captain of Australia’s 1968 victorious World Cup team. His game in the 1963 ‘Swinton massacre’ is considered one of the greatest of all time. Australia won the match 50-12 to win the Ashes in Britain for the first time in 50 years, and Raper had a hand in nine of the 12 Kangaroos tries.

Frank Hyde said, “When Johnny Raper was born, they not only destroyed the mould, they pulped it. I rate him the finest footballer I have seen.”

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Bench

14. Elton Rasmussen
Mackay (QLD), Toowoomba (QLD), St George, Souths Brisbane; 1959-69; Tests: 19, QLD: 13, NSW: 7
Prop or second row. Two-time Kangaroo tourist and winner of five grand finals with the Dragons.

15. Terry Randall
Manly; 1970-82; Tests: 11, NSW: 13; nickname: ‘Igor’
Second row. One of the hardest tacklers of his era. Four-time grand final winner.

16. Mal Reilly
Manly, Castleford (UK); 1970-80; Test: 9 (UK)
Prop. Renowned British hard man who starred for Britain in the 1970 Ashes win and became a Manly enforcer winning two grand finals.

17. Matthew Ridge
Manly, Auckland; 1990-99; Tests: 25 (NZ)
Fullback. Prolific pointscoring rugby union convert. Won the 1996 grand final with Manly and holds the records for most points in a match and in a season at the club.

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Honourable mentions

Kevin ‘Kandos’ Ryan (Prop; two Tests; dual international; seven premierships in a row for St George, then captained Canterbury to end the Dragons 11-year reign), Andrew Ryan (second row; 11 Tests) and Semi Radradra (wing; one test).

And there you have the R Team. No-one will want to take them on the forwards and they have class to burn out wide.

Next time we look at Team S, a clever team with some serious halfback depth.