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

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Roar Guru
3rd July, 2019
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Continuing our search for the ultimate alphabet team, we now come to the S side.

They have two of Melbourne’s big three, some very smart halfbacks and rough and tumble up front.

1. Billy Slater

Honours: Golden Boot 2008. Dally M Medal 2011. Dally M Fullback of the Year 2008, 2011 and 2017. Clive Churchill Medal 2009 and 2017. Wally Lewis Medal 2010 and 2018.
Years active: 2003 to 2018
Clubs: Melbourne
Club games: 322 (191 tries)
Representative career: Tests: 30. QLD: 31

Billy Slater is seriously in the conversation as the greatest fullback of all time and was probably the hardest-working player in the game. After driving himself to Melbourne in 2003 in search of a trial, Slater played every game in his debut season and never looked back.

No one has ever covered more ground than Slater. He was also a master of the sweep play at speed and has unparalleled game awareness.

Slater first played Origin in 2004 and although Queensland lost, Slater produced one of the most replayed tries in history, gathering a Darren Lockyer chip kick and then chipping for himself while wrong-footing the NSW fullback to score.

Slater crossed the line 230 times across club and representative football from 380 games. He played 319 times for the Storm and won four grand finals from eight attempts. Slater was the man of the match in two of those deciders. His 190 career tries for Melbourne is second only to Ken Irvine in the history of the competition.

Across 30 international games, Slater only lost twice and scored three hat tricks, two against England. He was player of the tournament at the 2008 World Cup. At state level, Slater won eight State of Origin series with Queensland from 12 attempts.


Slater also won the television show Australia’s Greatest Athlete, pitting athletes from different sports against each other, in 2009 and 2010.

Billy Slater

(Photo by Kelly Defina/Getty Images)

2. Matt Sing

Honours: North Queensland Hall of Fame.
Years active: 1993 to 2008
Clubs: Penrith, Sydney Roosters, North Queensland, Hull FC (UK)
Club games: 323 (176 tries)
Representative career: Tests: 15. QLD: 24

Matt Sing was a brilliant defensive winger with an underrated attacking game, finishing his career as one of the handful of players to score over 150 tries and the only player ever to score at least 70 tries for two different clubs.

After being Penrith’s rookie of the year in 1994, Sing benefited from the Super League split, being selected in the famous Queensland 1995 Origin team of ‘Nevilles’ who produced one of league’s greatest upsets, with Sing’s efforts to hold up Terry Hill over the line one of many in the side’s 2-0 first game victory.

Sing was then selected for Australia against NZ and moved to the ARL-aligned Sydney Roosters. He represented Australia again in 1996 and 1997 but was initially overlooked after the two sides came back together. Sing continued to be picked for Queensland however, and was also a part of the Roosters’ 2000 grand final team.

Sing moved to North Queensland in 2002 but did not play representative football again until 2003, when he was  selected for Queensland – scoring a hat trick in Origin 3 – and Australia, scoring a double against NZ.


Sing played all five Tests in the 2004 Tri-Nations and played the 2005 Anzac Test. He scored a try in the Cowboys’ first grand final appearance in 2005, going down to Wests Tigers. In 2007, Sing left the Cowboys to finish his career in England.

After 16 years of top-level football, Sing returned to Australia and played another four years in the Queensland Cup for the Central Queensland Comets.

3. Dale Shearer

Honours: Indigenous Team of the Century. North Queensland Team of the Century. Dally M Representative Player of the Year 1987.
Years active: 1982 to 1998
Clubs: Manly, Widnes (UK), Brisbane, Gold Coast, South Queensland Crushers, Sydney Roosters, North Queensland
Club games: 194 (78 tries, 84 goals, 3 field goals)
Representative career: Tests: 21. QLD: 26

What a talent Dale Shearer was. All instinct and excitement from fullback or the wing, Shearer had a 12-year representative career and was a collector of clubs, serving seven in all.

Shearer came to Manly from North Queensland in 1985 after winning the Foley Shield with Mackay and was an immediate star, playing 22 matches – the most he ever played in a season – and being selected for State of Origin.

He debuted for Australia the following year and represented his country each year until 1991, playing 21 Tests.

Shearer was a part of the 1986 ‘Unbeatables’ Kangaroo Tour, scoring four tries in a match against France. He also scored a try in Australia’s 1988 World Cup victory and went on the 1990 Kangaroo Tour.


In 1987, Shearer was fullback for the Manly team that won the grand final against Canberra. In the off-season he played for Widnes in the UK, winning the Championship.

Thereafter, Shearer’s club career was blighted by injury and frequent club changes. Across the next 11 seasons and six clubs, he never played 20 games in a season.

But Shearer was always up and about when State of Origin came around and allegedly often rang the selectors to remind them of his availability. He was a regular try-scorer at Origin level, crossing in six consecutive games in 1986 and ’87. He held the state’s try-scoring record for 16 years after his retirement.

He returned for Queensland during the Super League war, playing five-eighth in Game 1 as the Paul Vautin-coached Queensland secured a most unlikely series victory.

On moving to Sydney, he told the South Burnett Times: “Well, I nearly didn’t get there. If it wasn’t for my wife, I probably wouldn’t have gone. We packed up everything we had and started the drive but we only got 20 kilometres up the road and I just pulled over and started crying and I said to my wife, ‘I can’t do this’… I was only 18 or 19 and I’d never been away from my parents. I was just a little country boy.”

4. Darren Smith

Honours: Dally M Centre of the Year 1998.
Years active: 1986 to 2005
Clubs: Canterbury, Brisbane, St Helens (UK)
Club games: 321 (134 tries, 1 goal)
Representative career: Tests: 12. QLD: 25

Darren Smith just loved footy. Starting as a back-rower, Smith became a top-notch centre, scoring 115 tries over a lengthy career.


Smith came to Canterbury from Easts in Brisbane in 1990. He had represented Brisbane against Great Britain in 1988.

Smith had a few good years at the Bulldogs but was relegated to the bench after signing with Brisbane and missed the club’s 1994 grand final loss to Canberra.

Smith played for the Brisbane Broncos from 1995 to 1998, winning the 1997 Super League grand final and the 1998 unified competition. That year, he scored 23 tries in 27 games to be the season’s top try-scorer in a back line including noted try scorers such as Steve Renouf, Mick Hancock, Wendell Sailor and Darren Lockyer.

Smith debuted for the Australian Super League team in 1997 and played five Tests against NZ and Great Britain. He was then selected in the unified team through 1998 and 1999.

Smith returned to the Bulldogs in 1999 and played for four years. He moved to England when he was a victim of the club’s 2002 salary cap scandal. While playing for St Helens, the 35-year-old was called into the Australian side during the 2003 Ashes.

Smith returned to Brisbane and played until 2005, the then-36-year-old becoming one of the few players to make over 100 appearances for two different clubs. He continued to play on in the Brisbane competition, retiring after a losing grand final appearance back at the Easts Tigers where it all began.

He still had the bug though, turning out for Queensland Universities against NSW Universities at Suncorp Stadium as a 40-year-old, telling the Courier Mail: “It’s probably a mid-life crisis thing but when I got the call to arms I couldn’t let the boys down.”

5. Wendell Sailor


Years active: 1993 to 2009
Clubs: Brisbane, St George Illawarra
Club games: 229 (139 tries, 1 goal)
Representative career: Tests: 21. QLD: 17

Graded with the Broncos in 1993, by the following year Sailor had cemented a first grade position and was the youngest player on the 1994 Kangaroo Tour, where he played the first Test.

The Super League split meant Sailor did not debut for Queensland until 1996 but from then on he played every year until 2001, when he shocked the league world by defecting to rugby union.

Sailor was solid in Origin but not a match-winner, scoring only two tries in 17 games, but his trash-talking rivalry with Adam ‘Mad Dog’ MacDougall was one for the ages.

However, he was dynamic for Australia, scoring 21 tries in as many games, including in nine games straight. This streak included every game of the 2000 World Cup, where he picked up ten tries in only five games.

Sailor was a superstar at club level and scored at least 15 tries in each of the Broncos’ premiership years in 1997, 1998 and 2000. He scored in the 1998 and 2000 deciders and saved one of his best until last, scoring four tries in a finals match against St George Illawarra in 2001.

After five years and 37 Tests, Sailor’s union career came to a shuddering halt courtesy of a drug suspension. Sailor served his two-year ban then returned to rugby league for the Dragons halfway through 2008.

The Dragons won six on the trot from Sailor’s first game back to slip into the finals. Reuniting with his mentor Wayne Bennett in 2009, Sailor scored 13 tries for the season as the Dragons stormed to the minor premiership but were bundled out of the finals.


A tally of 127 career tries despite a seven-year break tells you what might have been for this larger-than-life character. At his career strike rate, Sailor could have reached 200 tries and also become the Kangaroos’ greatest ever try-scorer.

6. Arthur Summons

Honours: ARL Hall of Fame. NSWRL Player of the Year 1963. Wests Magpies Hall of Fame.
Years active: 1960 to 1967
Clubs: Wests Magpies, Wagga Magpies (NSW)
All games: 106 (21 tries)
Representative career: Tests: 9. NSW: 7

Arthur Summons, half of the game’s most famous photo and the model for the NRL premiership trophy, was also a pretty handy player. Summons was a rugby union fly-half, playing ten Tests for the Wallabies, before crossing over to rugby league.

Summons joined Wests in the midst of St George’s 11-year premiership streak and during his four years at the club, they came closest to beating the Dragons. In his time at Wests, they never finished lower than third and played in each of the 1961 to 1963 grand finals. In 1962 they lost by only three points and in 1963 they lost by five in the mud amid refereeing controversies.

Summons played five-eighth or half for Australia from 1961 to 1963, winning six of nine Tests, and was captain-coach of the 1963 Kangaroos that won the Ashes in England for the first time in over 50 years, although he missed the Tests against England due to injury and only played the Tests against France. He captained the side five times and never lost a Test as skipper.

After only four years at the top level, Summons took a captain-coach position in Wagga.

Norm Provan (left) and Arthur Summons, with the trophy that bears their name and likeness. (AAP Image/Paul Miller)


7. Peter Sterling

Honours: ARL Hall of Fame. Australian Sports Hall of Fame. NSW Sports Hall of Fame. Golden Boot 1987. Dally M Player of the Year 1986 and 1987. Rothmans Medal 1987 and 1990. Dally M Halfback of the Year 1983, 1984, 1986 and 1987. Clive Churchill Medal 1986. Hull FC Hall of Fame.
Years active: 1978 to 1992
Clubs: Parramatta, Hull FC (UK)
All games: 343 (76 tries)
Representative career: Tests: 18. NSW: 13

This was a tough one and Peter Sterling beats out two other Hall of Fame members to steer this side around the park.

Sterling was part of one of the greatest club sides of all time, the Parramatta team that won four from five grand finals between 1981 and 1986. And the architect of it all was Sterling, a halfback of unparalleled vision, with a brilliant passing and kicking game.

Sterling was plucked from nowhere play his first game at just 18, in the 1978 semi-final replay against Manly. By 1980 he was a fixture in the Eels’ side and together with Brett Kenny formed the most feared halves combination of their era, winning a hat trick of premierships from 1981 to 1983. Sterling debuted for NSW in 1981 and by 1982 was part of the ‘Invincibles’ Kangaroo Tour of Great Britain.

Sterling played every Test on two undefeated Kangaroo Tours in 1982 and 1986 – the latter as vice-captain – and only ever lost two Test matches in his career. This was despite the great rivalry with Steve Mortimer, where the pair swapped in and out of the NSW and Test teams.

At state level, Sterling enjoyed less success, playing only 13 matches across eight years due to the selectors’ regular swapping. However, he won four man of the match awards in those 13 matches, which equals Andrew Johns’ record for NSW but from ten fewer appearances. Sterling was halfback as NSW recorded their first ever clean sweep in 1986.

He was also a regular for Hull FC in the UK from 1983 to 1985 and played one of the great games in a losing side in the 1985 Challenge Cup, where they lost to the Brett Kenny-inspired Wigan in one of the greatest cup finals ever played.


Steve Mortimer told the NRL Hall of Fame of his great rival: “His kick and his creative organising ended up controlling games as if he was doing it all with a joystick.”

8. John Sattler

Honours: ARL Hall of Fame. NSW Sports Hall of Fame. Souths Team of the Century (captain).
Years active: 1963 to 1975
Clubs: South Sydney, Wests Brisbane (QLD), Norths Brisbane (QLD)
All games: 346 (23 tries)
Representative career: Tests: 4, NSW: 4, QLD: 4

Sattler is mostly remembered for his act of courage in the 1970 grand final, playing the majority of the game with a broken jaw as Souths defeated Manly.

“It wasn’t about trying to be a hero. It was just something that had to be done. It was a grand final and nothing was going to stop me,” he wrote in his autobiography, which makes for terrifying reading but ends with victory and a dash of humour.

“Clive rushes over and hugs me, in the process accidentally hitting me in the chops. My jaw flops again. Thanks, coach.”

Sattler was a dominant prop forward in a tough era, representing NSW and Australia, as well as being part of a great South Sydney team that won four grand finals in five years between 1967 and 1971.

He first came to attention from Kurri Kurri when representing Newcastle in a win against the touring British in 1962. Sattler joined Souths in 1963 and was made captain in 1967. This coincided with Souths’ golden run of premierships, with Sattler at the head of one of the greatest packs in history, boasting names such as Ron Coote, Bob McCarthy and John O’Neill.


Sattler was selected for the 1967 Kangaroo Tour but played no Tests. After captaining NSW in 1969, he skippered his country in three Tests against NZ and in the second Ashes Test in 1970. No doubt but for his broken jaw, Sattler would have been in the 1970 World Cup squad and probably as captain.

Sattler moved to Brisbane in 1973 and captained Queensland against NSW. Notably, Queensland did not score a single point during the entire series.

Sattler was sent off 15 times during his career and served a total of 30 weeks of suspensions.

9. Cameron Smith (captain and goalkicker)

Honours: Golden Boot 2007 and 2017. Dally M Medal 2006 and 2017. Seven-time Dally M Hooker of the Year. Four-time Dally M Captain of the Year. Four-time Wally Lewis Medal winner.
Years active: 2002 to present
Clubs: Melbourne
Club games: 398 (43 tries, 1168 goals, 4 field goals, 2512 points)
Representative career: Tests: 56. QLD: 42

There is really not much more to say about the great Cameron Smith that has not already been said.

Possibly the smartest player to ever play the game – the halfback in this side might give him a run for his money – Smith holds career longevity records at club and State of Origin level, second behind Darren Lockyer at national level.

And he has been part of the most successful Queensland era of all time, winning 11 series and seven man of the match awards, second only to Wally Lewis.


Add to that four winning grand finals from seven attempts and most career wins at club level. He has a massive motor, is a superb defensive player, a brilliant kicker in general play and a wonderful goalkicker, scoring over 2500 points in his career.

Basically, there is nothing Smith has not done in the game. He is The Man.

Cameron Smith Queensland Maroons State of Origin NRL Rugby League 2017

(AAP Image/Dave Hunt)

10. Ray Stehr

Honours: ARL Hall of Fame. NSW Sports Hall of Fame.
Years active: 1929 to 1946
Clubs: Eastern Suburbs, Mudgee (NSW)
All games: 283 (34 tries)
Representative career: Tests: 11. NSW: 30

Ray Stehr had one of the longest and most interesting careers in rugby league. He holds the record for the youngest person to ever play first grade at 16 year and 85 days after playing in a trial when aged 15!

In a long career, he won five titles with Eastern Suburbs – two as captain – and went on two Kangaroo Tours. He would have many more Tests to his name if World War Two had not intervened.

Stehr debuted in 1929 and played 184 games for the Roosters, a record at the time. He won five premierships at the club, including a golden period from 1935 to 1937 where the side only lost one match.


Stehr had a reputation as a hard, durable front rower who did not shy away from a confrontation. He is the only man to be sent off twice in a single Ashes series. On one of those occasions in 1936 he was knocked out cold during a running battle with the Great Britain enforcer John Arkwright.

The referee sent Arkwright from the field, then waited for Stehr to come round and then sent him off as well. To give an indication of the strength of international football at the time, Stehr only won a single Test against Great Britain from six attempts.

Stehr played over 30 games for NSW, including every interstate match from 1933 to 1938. This period coincided with NSW wrestling supremacy back after a successful Queensland era in the 1920s. Stehr won 22 from 30 games against Queensland.

Frank Hyde told the the NRL Hall of Fame: “Ray was one of the greatest of front row forwards, a man who would have succeeded in any era.”

Stehr’s 17-year career was even more remarkable given he suffered a blood clot in his spine as a child that threatened to cripple him and left him in a cast for a year.

11. Herb Steinohrt

Honours: ARL Hall of Fame. QRL Team of the Century. Queensland Sport Hall of Fame.
Years active: 1922 to 1936
Clubs: Valleys Toowoomba (QLD)
All games: 155 (46 tries)
Representative career: Tests: 9, QLD: 60

In the 1920s, Queensland was the dominant football state. Between 1922 and 1931, they won eight interstate series, including five in a row. They had never won before 1922.


And in Queensland, Toowoomba was by far the strongest district, probably the strongest country district in rugby league history. And Herb Steinohrt was right in the middle, one of the strongest and hardest men to ever play the game.

Featuring players such as Duncan Thompson, Vic Armbruster and Tom Gorman, Toowoomba were undefeated from 1922 to 1927 and beat, among others, Ipswich, Brisbane, NZ Maori, England, NSW (twice), NZ and South Sydney.

Steinohrt captained the team from 1927 right through to 1936 and they were still competitive, losing his last match for the Galloping Clydesdales by two points to the touring English. And if you think England were weak like they are now, during that period that Toowoomba was beating everyone, the Australian team did not win an Ashes series, home or away.

Steinohrt played in three Ashes series, including the 1929 Kangaroo Tour. He captained Australia in the 1932 home series, the last Queenslander to do so until Wally Lewis in 1981. This series included the famous ‘Battle of Brisbane’, won by the home side despite a horrendous injury toll, resulting in Steinohrt being chaired off the ground by the excited crowd.

For Queensland, Steinohrt played a whopping 60 matches – including 30 in a row – and nine years of interstate series against NSW, of which Queensland won five. Steinohrt captained Queensland in his last two series.

And for Toowoomba, Steinohrt played 125 matches and the Toowoomba Valleys ground is name in his honour. As late as 1936 Steinohrt was captaining Toowoomba to a Bulimba Cup title against Ipswich.

Duncan Thompson told the NRL Hall of Fame: “He had stamina and strength, and the football brain to go with it”.

12. Paul Sironen


Honours: Dally M Second-rower of the Year 1990. Wests Tigers Team of the Century. Balmain Team of the Century.
Years active: 1986 to 1999
Clubs: Balmain, Villeneuve-sur-Lot (France)
Club games: 246 (22 tries)
Representative career: Tests: 21. NSW: 14

Big Paul Sironen was an imposing physical presence on the field for Balmain, NSW and Australia. I remember him playing against France one year and he took the kick-off and ran back past the halfway line. Sironen’s career coincided with successful eras for the Tigers and the Blues.

After making his debut late in 1985, previously studying in Hawaii on a Gridiron scholarship, Sironen made an immediate impact and was named Dally M Rookie of the Year in 1986 before going on the ‘Unbeatables’ 1986 Kangaroo Tour.

He played one Test on the tour and struggled for consistency over the next couple of years before establishing himself as one of the premier running forwards of the era.

Between 1988 and 1994, Sironen played in 21 Tests, losing only three. He played all five Tests on the 1990 Kangaroo Tour and was man of the match in both the 1992 Ashes decider and the 1992 World Cup final. In 1994 he became only the fourth forward to make three Kangaroo Tours.


Sironen played 14 State of Origin matches. NSW won each of the four series where Sironen played in all three matches, 1990, 1992, 1993 and 1994. Amazingly for such a dominant ball-runner, he never scored a try in State of Origin.

Sironen was also a key part of the Balmain side that lost consecutive grand finals in 1988 and 1989, the latter in extra time after Sironen and team-mate Steve Roach had been replaced late in the match. Over a 14-year career, Sironen played nearly 150 matches for the Tigers – a club record – before spending a final season in the French competition, winning the Championship.

Sironen appeared on an episode of Home and Away as a talent scout and mate of Alf Stewart. There is no greater honour.

13. Bill Schultz

Years active: 1913 to 1924
Clubs: Balmain
Club games: 120 (12 tries)
Representative career: Tests: 7. NSW 14

This might look like an odd choice compared to great back-rowers with more Tests and interstate games such as Jason Smith, Steve Simpson or Paul Sait, but we must take into consideration that Schultz’ career coincided with World War I and he missed many representative opportunities.

Schultz was lock for the great Balmain team of the era that won six titles in his 11 years at the club, including a hat trick between 1915 and 1917.

Schultz did not get to play representative football until after the war, first playing for NSW in 1919 and touring with Australia to NZ that year. Schultz played all three Tests in the 1920 home Ashes win and toured with the 1921 Kangaroos, playing two Tests. He retired after Balmain’s win in the 1924 grand final.


Schultz got the nickname ‘Chang’ because at school he carried a picture around of a General Chang, a Manchurian warlord and hero of the Russo-Japanese war.


There are two halfbacks here who would walk into most sides.

14. Ricky Stuart
Canberra, Canterbury – 1988 to 2000. Tests: 9, NSW: 14

Halfback. ARL Hall of Fame member. Dally M Player of the Year 1993, Clive Churchill Medal 1990 and two time Dally M Halfback of the Year. Supreme kicking, passing and organising half for the Green Machine.

Raiders coach Ricky Stuart

(AAP Image/Lukas Coch)

15. Billy Smith
St George – 1963 to 1977. Tests: 26, NSW: 17

Halfback. ARL Hall of Fame member. Clever, tough and durable three time grand final winner for the Dragons. In 1966 Smith was both NSWRL Player of the Year and Ashes Man of the Series.


16. Matt Scott
North Queensland – 2004 to present. Tests: 22, QLD: 22

Prop. Dally M Prop of the Year 2011. Cornerstone for second half of the Queensland dynasty and for the Cowboys’ first premiership.

17. Jason Smith
Canterbury, Parramatta, Hull FC (UK), Canberra, North Queensland – 1990 to 2007. Tests: 15, QLD: 16

Lock/five-eighth. Dally M Lock of the Year 1999. Brilliant ball-playing lock and 1996 premiership winner with the Bulldogs.

Honourable mentions
Jason Stevens (prop, 18 Tests), Brett Stewart (fullback, somehow only one Test), Royce Simmons (hooker, ten Tests), Eric Simms (fullback, eight Tests, so good at field goals that he basically forced their value down from two points to one), Steve Simpson (second row, seven Tests), Gary Schofield (centre, 46 Tests and the 1990 Golden Boot), Kevin Schubert (hooker, 19 Tests), and Paul Sait (centre/lock, 16 Tests).

And there you have the S team. A great blend of smarts, brilliance and toughness, they will be hard to beat.

Next time we look at the Ts – great halves, but a bit light up front.