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

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Roar Guru
8th July, 2019
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Continuing our search for the winner of the Alphabet Cup, we come to the T team.

Some tough choices between centres and forwards with similar records, but there is no questioning the quality in the halves.

1. Ken Thornett

Honours: ARL Hall of Fame. NSWRL Player of the Year 1966. Parramatta Best Ever Team 1947-2001
Years active: 1961 to 1971
Clubs: Leeds (UK), Paramatta
All games: 320 (46 tries)
Representative career: Tests: 12. NSW: 3

Part of one of the most famous sporting families in this country, Ken Thornett first came to prominence for Leeds in England – where he had travelled for work – winning the club’s first ever Challenge Cup in 1961.

Thornett played a starring role for Leeds from 1961 to 1963 with a brief appearance in 1965, returning to Australia for brief stints with Parramatta in their off-seasons.

In 1962, he returned for seven games and Parramatta won six and drew one, putting them in the finals for the first time after claiming six consecutive wooden spoons. With Thornett at the back, the club made finals in each of the next three seasons.

Thornett was selected for the 1963 Kangaroo Tour along with his brother Dick, and in an era of quality fullbacks, he made the position his own, forcing the great Graeme Langlands into the centres.

On that tour, Thornett became the first Australian fullback to score a try in a Test match in England as Australia won the Ashes in the UK for the first time in over 50 years. In only two years, Thornett played 12 Tests and lost three, while scoring six tries.

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Thornett was a brilliant attacking player with a famous fend and was said to be so safe that in the 1961 UK season he didn’t drop a ball, and the bookies in England used to frame a market on whether he would.

Noel Kelly told the NRL Hall of Fame: “If there was trouble, you’d look over your shoulder and if Ken was fullback, you’d have no worries.”

2. Lote Tuqiri

Honours: Dally M Winger of the Year 2002
Years active: 1999 to 2014
Clubs: Brisbane, Wests Tigers, South Sydney
Club games: 167 (90 tries, 18 goals)
Representative career: Tests: 9 (plus 4 for Fiji). QLD: 6

With Lote Tuqiri and Wendell Sailor on the wings, Brisbane and Queensland were blessed with two extra forwards.

Tuqiri was an exceptional running winger. After representing the Junior Kangaroos in 1998, Tuqiri was graded by the Broncos in 1999 and made a low key start with 18 appearances mainly from the bench, winning the club’s rookie of the year.

But the flying Fijian winger burst into prominence in the following year, scoring 18 tries including one in the grand final as Brisbane stormed to the premiership. Tuqiri went on to score at least 15 tries in each of the next two seasons for the club before moving to rugby union in 2003.

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Tuqiri captained Fiji at the 2000 World Cup scoring four tries in three games. He was selected for Queensland in 2001 and went on to represent Australia that year against NZ, PNG and Great Britain.

In Game 2 of State of Origin 2002, Tuqiri – not a noted goal-kicker – set a points record for a single game for Queensland with 18 points including a hat trick of tries.

In rugby union, Tuqiri played in two World Cups and scored Australia’s only try in the 2003 World Cup final. He went on to earn 67 caps with the Wallabies between 2003 and 2009.

Tuqiri returned to league with the Wests Tigers in 2010 and scored a try after only four minutes. He had a great season as Wests missed out on a grand final berth by a single point, with Tuqiri scoring in the preliminary final, one of 18 tries for the season.

As a result, Tuqiri returned to the Australian side and played four matches in the 2010 Four Nations, becoming the first player to leave and return from rugby union and play further league Test matches.

After three seasons with the Tigers, Tuqiri had a swansong with Souths in 2014 and played in the club’s emotional first grand final triumph since 1971.

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Tuqiri scored in seven of the club’s last ten games including the semi-final and preliminary final. That year he also played a final Test for Fiji against Samoa, scoring a try and kicking two goals.

Over his league and union careers, Tuqiri played over 360 professional games.

3. Brent Tate

Years active: 2001 to 2014
Clubs: Brisbane, NZ Warriors, North Queensland
Club games: 229 (81 tries)
Representative career: Tests: 26. QLD: 23

Brent Tate was one of the game’s most courageous and resilient footballers. Despite a structural neck injury and numerous serious knee injuries, and with the help of a specially designed neck brace, Tate went on to forge a stellar 14-year career.

He was a key part of the Queensland State of Origin dynasty and won a premiership with the Broncos in 2006.

Tate burst onto the scene in his first full season in 2002 making both his State of Origin and national team debuts and being named the Broncos’ rookie of the year. He became a regular at representative level over the next six years despite battling serious injuries.

In 2006 Tate enjoyed a rare hat trick, scoring tries in the deciding State of Origin match – earning him the man of the match award and securing Queensland the first series of the famous streak – as well as the Broncos’ 15-8 win over Melbourne in the grand final and in Australia’s 16-12 win in the final of the Tri-Nations competition in November.

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Tate represented Australia 26 times over 11 years, scoring 16 tries and losing only four times. He played in nine State of Origin series, winning five and being man of the match twice from the wing in the 2006 and 2013 deciders.

At club level, Tate gave great service to each of his three clubs, playing 229 games. A fourth serious knee injury in Game 2 of the 2014 State of Origin series saw Tate finally retire as one of the toughest men in league.

Tate on injuries told the Courier Mail: “I have had four knee reconstructions, nine ankle operations, major surgeries to my shoulder, groin and throat, and two arthroscopies to clean up a knee.”

On his neck injury: “For two months, I couldn’t pick up a glass of water and tip it in my mouth with my left hand. I’m thinking, ‘I can’t keep doing this’.”

4. Willie Tonga

Honours: Dally M Centre of the Year 2004
Years active: 2002 to 2017
Clubs: Parramatta, Canterbury, North Queensland, Catalans Dragons (UK), Leigh Centurions (UK), Bradford Bulls (UK)
Club games: 212 (87 tries)
Representative career: Tests: 12. QLD: 8

Willie Tonga was a stylish centre for Queensland and Australia. After a couple of unremarkable seasons with Parramatta, Tonga moved to Canterbury and in 2004 he was selected for the second State of Origin.

Tonga scored a try in the Maroons’ win and his 18 tries for the Bulldogs that year, Dally M Centre of the Year award and a place in Canterbury’s grand final winning team saw Tonga move into the elite category.

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He was selected in the 2004 Tri-Nations squad and played in all six Tests, scoring a double in Australia’s 44-4 hammering of England in the final.

Tonga played in the 2005 Anzac Test but then did not represent again until 2010, after a move to North Queensland. Tonga scored 34 tries in 60 matches for the Cowboys and was selected in the 2010 Four Nations squad.

His last Test was in 2011 after which he moved back to Parramatta. Three injury-plagued years saw him move to England to finish his career.

After representing Queensland in 2004, Tonga did not get selected again until 2009, after which he played six more games for the Maroons, losing only one. He played most of 2011 State of Origin Game 1 with a dislocated shoulder.

5. Timana Tahu

Years active: 1999 to 2014
Clubs: Newcastle, Penrith, Parramatta
Club games: 196 (121 tries, 2 goals)
Representative career: Tests: 5. NSW: 12

Timana Tahu in action. NRL

(Anthony Johnson copyright © nrlphotos.com)

Newcastle 2001 premiership player Timana Tahu had a sometimes controversial career but no one can deny the winger’s try-scoring prowess, crossing 121 times at club level, scoring five tries in as many appearance for Australia and scoring eight tries from 12 State of Origin games.

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After debuting in 1999, Tahu broke the Knights’ season try-scoring record the following year only to break it again in 2002. In between, he also scored in Newcastle’s 2001 grand final win over Parramatta.

Tahu played in the 2002 State of Origin series, scoring a try on debut. He was selected for Australia that year to play Great Britain and NZ and he scored a try in each match.

Injuries affected subsequent years but he was selected for NSW and Australia when fit over the next few seasons.

In 2005, Tahu was part of the Parramatta side that won the minor premiership. A highlight was a hat trick of tries in a match against Canterbury when Tahu slam-dunked the ball over the crossbar after his third try.

Tahu then moved to rugby union and played four Tests. He returned to league in 2010 and was selected for State of Origin, but walked out after a confrontation with Andrew Johns over a racist slur.

At the end of the year, Tahu represented NZ Maori against England. He then spent a season at Penrith before returning to Newcastle but he never managed to reach his earlier heights.

In 2016 Tahu played for the Denver Stampede in the US Pro Rugby Union competition.

6. Johnathan Thurston (goal-kicker)

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Honours: Four-time Dally M Player of the Year, four-time Dally M Halfback of the Year, three-time Dally M Five-eighth of the Year, three-time Golden Boot winner, Wally Lewis Medal 2008, Clive Churchill Medal 2015
Years active: 2002 to 2018
Clubs: Canterbury, North Queensland
Club games: 323 (91 tries, 928 goals, 16 field goals, 2236 points)
Representative career: Tests: 38. QLD: 37

Johnathan Thurston is possibly the greatest player of his era and is firmly in any conversation regarding the greatest halves to have played the game.

Blessed with an iron will to win, unparalleled footballing instincts, a clutch goal-kicking game and the best show-and-go of the modern era, there are not too many to rival JT, the game’s ultimate competitor.

Thurston played 36 consecutive State of Origin matches and has been the common factor for the entire Queensland reign of terror, winning five man of the match awards and scoring more points than any other Maroons player.

His clutch goal to win his final Origin match with his injured shoulder hanging by his side is a lasting memory for any who saw it. But his performance as man of the series in 2008 – when he engineered a Queensland victory without Darren Lockyer including the series-sealing try set up by his patented show-and-go – was just as special.

In 2015, Thurston led North Queensland to a premiership, kicking the winning field goal in extra time and winning the Clive Churchill Medal to round out his resume. This was part of a three-year period when Thurston scored more than 200 points in each season.

Johnathan Thurston

JT. Legend. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

All of this after Canterbury signed Thurston for a nil playing fee, considering him too small.

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Thurston also holds the record for most points for Australia with 382 from his 38 games, for 35 wins.

Simply put, JT has done everything there is to do and has probably been the game’s most loved player. In 2018 he was named Queensland Australian of the Year.

And he holds the world record for headgear given to young fans.

But, like Origin, he moves to five-eighth in this side because of…

7. Duncan Thompson OBE (captain)

Honours: ARL Hall of Fame. QRL Team of the Century. North Sydney Team of the Century. QLD Sport Hall of Fame
Years active: 1911 to 1925
Clubs: St Paul’s Ipswich (QLD), Wests Newcastle, North Sydney, Starlights Ipswich (QLD), Valleys Toowoomba (QLD)
All games: 126 (27 tries)
Representative career: Tests: 9. QLD: 17. NSW: 2

He was one of the game’s greatest tacticians, one of the all-time finest running halves, creative, successful and spent most of his adult life with a bullet lodged in his chest. He is Duncan Thompson.

He also led North Sydney to premierships – even Jesus and JT would have passed that up!

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Thompson started his career in Ipswich and first represented Queensland in 1915. He moved to NSW in 1916 due to a job transfer and played for North Sydney before enlisting and spending 1917 to 1918 on the front. In 1918 he received a bullet in his chest but survived carrying the bullet fragment inside him for the rest of his life.

Thompson returned to football and toured NZ with Australia in 1919, receiving blood poisoning on the sea trip over from infected vermin bites.

On return to Australia he played in the 1920 Ashes victory over Great Britain as Australia won the Ashes on home soil for the first time. Thompson was a controversial selection but he put on a performance that was considered one of the greatest ever by a halfback.

The unthinkable happened in 1921 when Norths won a premiership. Thompson was selected for the 1921 Kangaroo Tour where he played three Tests and scored over 100 points on tour. While in NSW, he also captained the state against NZ, Queensland and a combined NZ/Queensland side.

Lightning struck twice when Norths won the 1922 premiership with Thompson as captain. As a result, Thompson has a stand at North Sydney Oval named after him and was selected in the Bears’ Team of the Century. That should have been enough for any player in their career, but it was not over yet.

After a dispute over a suspension for kicking, Thompson returned to Queensland, where he captained the great Galloping Clydesdales of Toowoomba in 1924 and 1925.

This was the legendary Toowoomba side that were the undisputed champions of rugby league in Australia, beating all comers, including the undefeated Sydney premiers Souths, Brisbane, Ipswich and visiting representative sides, including New South Wales, Victoria, Great Britain and New Zealand.

He pioneered contract football – a possession-based game focusing on skills, team work and fitness that’s now championed by the Walker brothers at Ipswich – and is considered the father of modern attacking play.

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In those days, each play-the-ball was a genuine contest for possession, so Thompson’s philosophy was that players should avoid dying with the ball at all costs.

Thompson also played in Queensland series wins over NSW in 1924 and 1925, NZ in 1919 and 1925 and a victory over Great Britain in 1924. Thompson’s international career finished with two Test appearances in the 1924 Ashes series against the Great Britain.

Herb Steinohrt from the NRL Hall of Fame: ”Without a doubt the best attacking halfback in the history of the game”.

Thompson also won a first grade cricket premiership in Brisbane with Valleys and played tennis for Toowoomba and Queensland. He also played golf off a three handicap and was a note lawn bowls player, representing Toowoomba in that sport as well.

All with bullet fragments in his chest.

8. Sam Thaiday

Honours: Dally M Second Rower of the Year 2010 and 2011. Indigenous Team of the Century
Years active: 2003 to 2018
Clubs: Brisbane
Club games: 308 (40 tries, 1 goal)
Representative career: Tests: 32, QLD: 29

Sam-Thaiday-Australia-Kangaroos-Rugby-League-Anzac-Test-2017

(NRL Photos/Grant Trouville)

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Sam Thaiday was a durable, hard-working forward for Brisbane, Queensland and Australia for 15 years. He was also quite the character.

Thaiday played in ten series wins for Queensland in State of Origin and was the Maroons’ man of the series in 2010.

Thaiday rarely topped the metres or tackle counts, but he did the hard yards and made sure he was always nearby when trouble was brewing.

Thaiday was first picked for Australia in the 2006 Tri-Nations but became a fixture in 2009 and played virtually every Test between then and 2017. His 34 career Tests ranks him equal fourth for forwards.

Thaiday is one of the few forwards to have played over 300 games and he did it all for Brisbane. He was part of the 2006 premiership-winning team and had one of his finest seasons at the end when in 2018 he made plenty of impact, leading a young pack around the field.

In 2018 Thaiday announced his retirement made up as an old man outside of a retirement home. “I’ve always been a bit different in everything I’ve done but I’ve always been true to myself and done things my way”.

9. Geoff Toovey

Honours: Dally M Hooker of the Year 1999, Clive Churchill Medal 1996
Years active: 1988 to 2001
Clubs: Manly, Northern Eagles
Club games: 286 (35 tries, 5 field goals)
Representative career: Tests: 13. NSW: 16

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Geoff Toovey was pound-for-pound one of the toughest men in the game.

He was primarily a halfback but I’m short of dummy halves and he did win the player of the year from that position. He also formed a lethal combination at representative level with Andrew Johns where Toovey was nominally the halfback but played dummy half.

Despite being one of the smallest players, Toovey played over 300 professional games and captained his club, state and country. He became Manly’s longest-serving captain and led them to three consecutive grand finals between 1995 and 1997.

Toovey debuted for Manly in 1988 against the touring Great Britain side. He was first picked for NSW in 1990 and Australia in 1991. His next two seasons were ruined by injury but the Super League war gave Toovey the opportunity to represent NSW and Australia in 1995, including as halfback in their World Cup victory over England.

In 1996, Toovey captained the Sea Eagles to a premiership, played all three State of Origins and captained Australia in a Test against PNG. In a typically courageous performance, Toovey played out the grand final with a fractured eye socket.

In 1997, with Super League players once again unavailable, Toovey captained NSW to a State of Origin series win.

In 1999 Toovey switched to hooker full-time for Manly and won the Dally M Hooker of the Year award. In 2000 he was hooker as NSW completed a clean sweep of that year’s Origin series.

10. James Tamou

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Years active: 2009 to present
Clubs: North Queensland, Penrith
Club games (to 2018): 221 (17 tries)
Representative career: Tests: 12. NSW: 14

James Tamou is a big unit. His partnership with Matt Scott at North Queensland brought the club their first ever premiership and he scored a try in the Cowboys’ golden point victory.

Despite being born in NZ, representing NZ Maori between 2008 and 2010 and being in the Kiwis’ train-on squad in 2011, Tamou chose to play for NSW and Australia, where he has lived since he was 13 and forged a successful state and national career.

Tamou made steady progress after his debut in 2009, and by the 2012 season, he averaged more metres gained than any other forward in the NRL and was named the Cowboys’ players’ player. This resulted in his selection in state and national teams.

Between 2012 and 2016 Tamou made 12 appearances for Australia, losing only once. This included playing six matches in Australia’s dominant 2013 World Cup campaign, where they allowed only one try against them for the entire tournament.

Tamou played all but one State of Origin match between 2012 and 2016 including the Blues’ 2014 drought-breaking series win.

To date, Tamou has played over 220 club games for the Cowboys and the Panthers.

11. Gorden Tallis

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Honours: ARL Hall of Fame. Dally M Second Rower of the Year 1999. Clive Churchill Medal 1998. Indigenous Team of the Century
Years active: 1992 to 2004
Clubs: St George, Brisbane
All games: 262 (88 tries, 1 goal)
Representative career: Tests: 16, QLD 23

The man with the crazy eyes was one of the most intimidating forwards of the modern era.

He was a magnet for memorable moments, whether it was rag-dolling poor Brett Hodgson over the sideline in State of Origin, or getting sent off for calling Bill Harrigan a cheat in State of Origin, or retaliating to offensive crowd abuse in State of Origin, or engaging in some full-on in-your-face abuse with Terry Hill in State of Origin.

Let’s face it: Tallis was pure Origin theatre.

Tallis represented Australia from 1997 to 2003, losing only once in 16 games. This included being a member of the winning 2000 World Cup squad. He also captained his country twice, against Russia in 2000 and NZ in 2002.

At state level Tallis won four from eight Origin series and captained Queensland seven times.

Tallis was a three-time premiership winner with the Broncos, winning in 1997, 1998 and 2000. He was part of a truly intimidating pack alongside players such as Shane Webcke, Brad Thorn, Petero Civoniceva, Kevin Campion, Peter Ryan and Tonie Carroll.

In an era of unlimited interchange, the pack used sheer power to brutalise the opposition. Tallis was man of the match in the 1998 decider, scoring a try and generally running rampant.

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Shane Webcke told the NRL Hall of Fame: “At his peak he was such a powerhouse… he could bust open anyone.”

12. George Treweek

Honours: ARL Hall of Fame. NSW Sports Hall of Fame. South Sydney Dream Team
Years active: 1926 to 1934
Clubs: South Sydney
All games: 180 (61 tries)
Representative career: Tests: 7. NSW: 26

George Treweek is regularly mentioned as the greatest second-rower the game has seen.

From his debut in 1926, managing to break into a South Sydney side that had been undefeated the year before, Souths won six of the next seven premierships with Treweek becoming a pivotal player and the captain of the 1932 grand final winners.

At 188cm, Treweek was the tallest player of his era and his long stride and ability to split defences made him a towering attacking figure as well.

After debuting in the 1928 home Ashes series, Treweek went on the 1929 Kangaroo Tour and scored a try in Australia’s first Test victory. He was described by the British press as the greatest forward in the world.

He declined a second Kangaroo Tour in 1933 for business reasons and retired the following year. This was the era of the Great Depression and Treweek couldn’t justify shutting his business – he ran a butcher shop and worked from 4am until lunch time on match days.

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Treweek also played 26 games for NSW, winning four from six interstate series and 17 games overall.

13. Jason Taumalolo

Honours: Dally M Player of the Year 2016. Dally M Lock of the Year 2015, 2016 and 2018
Years active: 2010 to present
Clubs: North Queensland
Club games (to 2018): 163 (31 tries)
Representative career: Tests: 10 (NZ), 10 (Tonga)

Jason Taumalolo

(Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

In his career so far, Jason Taumalolo has become the greatest metre-gaining forward in the history of rugby league.

After first playing for the Cowboys in 2010 at just 17, Taumalolo became more and more damaging for longer periods each year. This culminated in a truly dominant year as the Cowboys won their first premiership in 2015 and smashed Leeds 38-4 to win the World Cup Challenge in early 2016.

The Cowboys’ other JT was possibly even more dominant the following year and was recognised as the premier player in the competition.

He is so highly regarded by the Cowboys that they signed him to an unprecedented ten-year contract in 2017. That year, he became the first forward to run for over 5000 metres in a single season, averaging over 200 metres per match.

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Taumalolo played three Tests for Tonga in the 2013 World Cup scoring wins against Samoa and the Cook Islands. He was then selected by NZ for the 2014 Four Nations. NZ were undefeated through the tournament, beating Australia 22-18 in the final.

Taumalolo represented the Kiwis in six more Tests up to mid-2017 before stunning the league world by returning to Tonga for the 2017 World Cup along with Andrew Fifita. Tonga had a wonderful tournament, reaching the semi-finals for the first time, before bowing out in a two-point loss to England.

Taumalolo turned out twice for Tonga in 2018, including the country’s first ever Test against Australia.

Taumalolo has also represented for Australian Schoolboys.

Bench

14. Viv Thicknesse
Eastern Suburbs – 1932 to 1937. Tests: 7, NSW: 11

Halfback. ARL Hall of Fame. Halfback for Easts’ 1935 to 1937 three-time premiership side, the last as captain. 1933 Kangaroo tourist. Considered to have one of the best passing games in history. Dally Messenger from NRL Hall of Fame: ”I would rate Viv Thicknesse probably with any half who has played”.

15. Dick Thornett
Parramatta, Eastern Suburbs – 1963 to 1972. Tests: 14, NSW: 12

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Second-row. 1963 Kangaroo tourist. A member of the famous Thornett family and multi-talented sportsman, representing Australia in rugby union and at the 1960 Olympics in water polo.

16. Bill Tyquin
Souths Brisbane (QLD), Brothers Brisbane (QLD), St George – 1938 to 1950. Tests: 12, QLD: 12, NSW: 1

Lock. Ignatius Tyquin was a great cover-defending lock forward who could punt kick 75 yards. Played one season in Sydney and won the 1941 premiership, although he was sent off in the grand final, before enlisting in the army. Won two premierships with Souths in Brisbane – one as captain coach – and their oval is named after him. Captained the 1948 Kangaroos after the war.

17. James Tedesco
Wests Tigers, Sydney Roosters – 2012 to present. Tests: 2 (plus 6 for Italy), NSW: 7

Fullback. Dally M Fullback of the Year 2016. Brilliant running fullback and 2018 premiership winner with the Roosters.

Honourable mentions
Brad Thorn (prop – 8 Tests), Jake Trbojevic (lock – 5 Tests), Tom Trbojevic (fullback – 4 Tests), Shaun Timmins (centre/five-eighth – 9 Tests), Peter Tunks (prop – 6 Tests), Alan Thompson (five-eighth – 8 Tests), Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (Fullback – 16 Tests).

And there you have the T team. Great halves, great fullback, great back row. A team to watch.