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

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Roar Guru
25th July, 2019
35

Continuing our look for the Alphabet Cup champion, we now come to the V Team.

For those wondering, the Letter U players are being drafted into the U-X-Z super team. Click here to read the previous articles in the series.

The spine is a worry, but there are some hard forwards and damaging Kiwi try-scoring machines in the outside backs. It appears that every aspiring V player wants to be a winger.

1. David Vaealiki

Years active: 1999–2008
Clubs: Paramatta, Wigan (UK), Manly
Club games: 167 (49 tries, one goal)
Representative career: Tests: 7 (New Zealand)
David Vaealiki played for the Junior Kiwis in 1998 before joining Parramatta. He played for six years with the Eels, scoring 32 tries from 92 matches and was part of their 2001 losing grand final team as well as finals teams in his first four years at the club. In 2002 in a game against Penrith he set the record for the fastest hat-trick of tries in NRL history, at just 11 minutes.

During that time he was mainly a centre at club level, but he played four Tests for New Zealand at fullback. After making his debut in the 2000 World Cup, scoring two tries against the Cook Islands, Vaealiki played for the Kiwis each year until 2003.

He moved to Wigan in the UK Super League in 2005 and played over 70 games for the club. He returned to Australia to Manly in 2008 but played only two games before moving to French rugby union. At 17 years and 199 days old he was the youngest player to ever represent Canterbury in New Zealand.

2. Lesley Vainikolo

Honours: Bradford Bulls team of the century
Years active: 1997–2007
Clubs: Canberra, Bradford (UK)
Club games: 218 (180 tries, one goal)
Representative career: Tests: 14 (New Zealand)
Nickname: Volcano
Another Junior Kiwi, Lesley Vainikolo played for Canberra between 1998 and 2001. He scored 35 tries in 69 games for the Raiders and played finals for the club in 1998 and 2000.

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Vainikolo went on to greater things in the UK Super League, scoring 145 tries for the powerhouse Bradford Bulls club in just 149 games. During his time at the club he reached four consecutive grand finals between 2002 and 2005, winning two.

In 2003 the club won the Challenge Cup and Super League double. In 2004 he broke the Super League season try-scoring record by scoring 36 tries in only 26 appearances and scored five hat-tricks in the season.

Vainikolo still holds the Super League record of six tries in a single match in 2005. During his time in England he also played in three winning World Club Challenge matches against Australian clubs.

The man they called ‘Volacon’ also played 14 Tests for New Zealand, the first 11 between 1999 and 2000, including the 2000 World Cup final. After a four-year break he was selected for a further three Tests between 2004 and 2006. He scored in each of his last eight Tests.

Vainikolo moved to rugby in 2007, scoring five tries on debut, and represented England. He is still playing in Europe.

Vainikolo was also a schoolboy sprint champion with a best time of 10.6 seconds over 100 metres. He competed in the World Junior Athletics Championships.

Joe Vagana, as per the Bradford Telegraph and Argus, said: “He’s a freak and there’s only ever going to be one Volcano.”

3. Nigel Vagana

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Honours: Dally M centre of the year 2001 and 2002
Years active: 1996–2008
Clubs: Auckland, Warrington (UK), Canterbury, Cronulla, South Sydney
Club games: 260 (157 tries)
Representative career: Tests: 38 (NZ), two (Samoa)
Nigel Vagana scored over 180 tries at club and international level across a brilliant 13-season career and was the first non-Australian player to score a century of first-grade tries in the NRL.

Primarily a centre at club level, Vagana has also played fullback, wing and five-eighth for the Kiwis across 38 test matches.

After one game for the Warriors in 1996 – and having represented New Zealand in the 1996 World Nines tournament, which they won – Vagana played a season in the UK for Warrington and topped their try-scoring table for the year. The following year he returned to Auckland and was a consistent player for them for the next three years.

In 2001 he moved to the Bulldogs and took his try-scoring to the next level, crossing 61 times in only 76 games, including a record five in one match. He played in the side’s finals campaigns in 2001 and 2003 and was named the best centre in the game in 2001 and 2002. Vagana broke Chris Anderson’s 1983 Bulldogs record for most tries in a season in 2002, when led the NRL with 23 tries.

In 2004 Canterbury’s salary cap issues saw Vagana move to the Sharks, playing five-eighth in their 2005 finals campaign. A move to Souths followed in 2007, when the team came from receiving the wooden spoon in 2006 to playing finals.

Vagana had a highly successful representative career, scoring 19 tries in 38 games for New Zealand and scoring five wins over Australia, the last being two wins playing five-eighth as the Kiwis took the 2005 Tri-nations title. He retired as New Zealand’s all-time top try-scorer. He also played for the All Golds in 2007 in their 100-year anniversary match against Great Britain.

Vagana also represented Samoa in the 2008 World Cup, scoring a try in each of their games as they defeated Tonga but lost to Ireland.

4. Dick Vest (goalkicker)

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Honours: Wests Magpies hall of fame
Years active: 1914–25
Clubs: Wests Sydney, West Wyalong (Country NSW)
Club games (NSWRL): 97 (25 tries, 11 goals)
Representative career: Tests: 7l; NSW: 9.
Dick Vest’s birth name was Gregoria Veserema. His father emigrated from Austria and then died in a mining accident. Vest and his brothers were sent from Barmedman in country NSW to be raised in an orphanage in the western suburbs of Sydney.

He debuted for Wests in 1914 and first represented NSW in 1919 after the war, when he scored a try in each of the three interstate games against Queensland. He made his national debut that year against New Zealand on the wing and scored two tries on debut.

Vest went on to play all three Tests in the 1920 home Ashes series, scoring a try in the second Test as Australia won the Ashes at home for the first time. He also toured with the 1921 Kangaroos, playing all three Tests at centre and scoring in the Kangaroos’ second Test victory. He was offered the then princely sum of £1200 to stay in England and join Leeds, but his mother wouldn’t allow it.

In a ten-year career for Wests Vest never tasted premiership glory, the best being a second-place finish by one game to Souths in 1918 – there were no finals series back then. Vest left Wests for country football in 1923 and the following year represented Cootamundra against the touring British. He captain-coached West Wyalong to win the Maher Cup in 1925.

He is the goalkicker courtesy of 11 whole career goals. Hopefully he has a bit of practice.

5. Manu Vatuvei

Years active: 2004–18
Clubs: Auckland, Salford (UK)
Club games: 234 (157 tries)
Representative career: New Zealand: 29; Tonga: 2
Nickname: The Beast
With the Volcano on one wing and the Beast on the other, this team has some serious power on the flanks. Manu Vatuvei, the human bulldozer, became a cult hero and legend of New Zealand rugby league, scoring over 150 tries for the Warriors – far and away their highest try scorer – and another 22 for New Zealand, which is a record for his country.

Vatuvei joined the Warriors in 2004 and played 14 seasons for the club. A prolific try scorer, he crossed at least ten times per season for ten years in a row from 2006 to 2015, the only player ever to do so. Exhilarating and inconsistent, he matched the Warriors perfectly. Having said that, they did make the finals four times in five years, culminating in a grand final in 2011, with Vatuvei scoring a try in their loss to Manly.

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Manu represented New Zealand from 2005 to 2015. Highlights included scoring two tries as the Kiwis smashed Australia 24-0 in the 2005 Tri-nations final. He repeated the dose with another double when New Zealand won the 2014 Four Nations. Vatuvei was also part of New Zealand’s 2008 World Cup-winning side. His final appearance was yet another double in yet another win over the Kangaroos, in the 2015 Anzac Test. In all Vatuvei scored nine tries in 14 games against Australia for five wins.

Vatuvei also represented Tonga at the 2017 World Cup, playing in their victories over Fiji and Scotland. He moved to Salford in 2018, but injury limited him to just eight appearances, although he managed to score five tries.

Mt Smart Stadium was temporarily renamed Manu Vatuvei Stadium in honour of his final match for the Warriors.

6. Ken Van Heekeren

Years active: 1953–58
Clubs: Eastern Suburbs
Club games: 58 (18 tries)
Ken Van Heekeren played 58 first-grade games for the tricolours in the 1950s. He scored eight tries in 1953 to be the club’s leading try scorer and played for the Roosters in their 1953 semi-final loss to St George.

Van Heekeren dislocated his shoulder in 1954 and didn’t play first grade against until 1957, scoring another eight tries that season.

7. Ted Verrenkamp

Honours: Souths Brisbane team of the century.
Years active: 1945–59
Clubs: Souths Brisbane (QLD), Leeds (UK), Keighley (UK), Cairns (QLD)
Representative career: QLD: 5; Other Nationalities: 1
Ted Verrenkamp was a stalwart of Queensland rugby league who played five games for his state after World War II. Described as a smart half or five-eighth with great ball-handling skills, he played in all four games of the 1947 series, including Queensland’s victory in Game 2. Unfortunately he was overshadowed in that series by another Queensland five-eighth – the great Pat Devery – who was captain of New South Wales for that series. Verrenkamp played for Souths in Brisbane, reaching the finals in 1946 before making the grand final in 1947, losing to Easts.

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Like Devery before him, Verrankamp moved to England in 1948, playing 165 games for Leeds over seven seasons and moving to Keighley for a further three seasons before returning home to Queensland with his English wife. Such was his reputation in England that on his passing in 2010 the Leeds club held a minute’s silence before their next match. While in Britain, Verrenkamp played for Other Nationalities against England in 1952 alongside such greats as Brian Bevan, Harry Bath and Arthur Clues.

Leeds president Harry Jepson, as per an obituary in the Courier Mail, said: “He was often referred to as ‘that Verrenkamp’ because he could cover any of the three-quarter positions, either halfback role or even custodian, such was his value.”

Verrenkamp next played for Cairns in North Queensland and led them to the 1958 Foley Shield title.

On retirement, Verrenkamp had a long coaching and administration career, including coaching Queensland to two drawn interstate series in 1960 and 1961. He was awarded life membership of Queensland Rugby League, one of only 15 such members to date.

8. Greg Vievers (captain)

Honours: Souths Brisbane team of the century
Years active: 1968–79
Clubs: Souths Brisbane (QLD), Huddersfield (UK)
Representative career: Tests: 7; QLD 19
Greg Veivers is part of one of Queensland rugby league’s most notable families. His father John represented Queensland in the 1950s and his cousin Mick also played for Australia. His brother Phil played for St Helens for over a decade and his nephew Scott also spent time in the UK Super League. He’s also Wayne Bennett’s brother-in-law. Another cousin, Tom, also played cricket for Australia.

But Greg Veivers was a great player in his own right, being one of Queensland’s top prop forwards over a decade-long career. In his seven games for Australia across the 1975 and 1977 world cups Veivers never played in a losing side, and he captained Australia against New Zealand in 1977.

Veivers was a part of Queensland’s winning side in Game 1 of 1970 as a 20-year-old. He captained the team in their consecutive draws against New South Wales in 1974 and was captain in 1975 when Queensland took the series to a decider, which they lost by a point. He also had the distinction of winning the man of the match for a losing Queensland side in Game 2 of 1977.

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Greg played 19 times for his state over nine years and was captain on 11 occasions. He also represented the Brisbane side that defeated the touring British in 1975.

At club level Veivers spent most of his career at Souths Brisbane. He stepped aside in 1979 due to injury and the club featured in their first grand final in over a decade that year, with the retired Veivers leading the side out in full playing kit on grand final day. It was not to be, with a hot Valleys side, including a young Wally Lewis, smashing the Magpies 26-0.

Veivers also had a brief spell in England for Huddersfield in 1972 alongside brother-in-law Bennett.

9. Adrian Vowles

Honours: Castleford Tigers hall of fame, man of steel 1999 (UK player of the year)
Years active: 1993–2005
Clubs: Gold Coast, North QLD, Castleford (UK), Leeds (UK), Wakefield (UK), Toowoomba (QLD), Burleigh (QLD)
Club games: 271 (47 tries, 9 goals, 1 field goal)
Representative career: Scotland: 3; QLD: 1
Given the only other hooker I can find is Augustus Vennes, who played one game as hooker in his five-game career for Glebe in 1908, Vowles’s three games in the position and his general versatility get him the nod.

Vowles hails from Western Queensland, where a rugby league carnival is named after him. He spent two years with the Gold Coast, highlighted by being named the club’s player of the year in 1993 and selection on the bench for 1994 State of Origin Game 2. He became a member of the inaugural North Queensland side in 1995 but was unfortunately sent off in their first-ever premiership game. He captained the club in 1996 before moving to England to play for Castleford.

On his time at North Queensland, as per Heroes of Yersterday interviews, he said, “The first week all of the players were laying the turf on the hill to get the ground ready for the game. I guarantee you wouldn’t get the players of today to do that.”

On State of Origin he said, “Mal Meninga was captain and in the dressing room Alfie Langer was vomiting. I was thinking if he’s that nervous how should I be feeling but it turns out he vomited before each game.”

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Vowles’s stint in English football was very successful, winning the UK player of the year award in 1999, the first Castleford player to do so, and playing over 190 games. He represented Scotland in the 2000 World Cup and helped take Castleford from second last in 1997 to consecutive finals series and Challenge Cup semi-finals in 1999 and 2000. After a short stint with Leeds, Vowles transferred to Wakefield Trinity and as captain-coach helped save the club from relegation.

Vowles returned to Australia and played for the Toowoomba Clydesdales in 2004, winning their player of the year. He moved to the Burleigh Bears in 2005 and played in their Queensland Cup grand final loss that year. Vowles returned to Castleford for a short stint in 2005 as the club won their way back into the Super League.

Vowles was inducted into the Castleford hall of fame and also has a Yorkshire bus named in his honour. He has also coached the Queensland women’s team.

10. Richard Villasanti

Years active: 1999–2006
Clubs: Balmain, Wests Tigers, Auckland, Cronulla
Club games: 116 (24 tries)
Representative career: Tests: 1.
Nicknames: Villa the Gorilla, Lochness
After 13 games across two seasons with the Tigers, Villasanti moved across to the Warriors and became an effective impact forward with a reputation for big defensive hits.

After playing off the bench in the Warriors 2002 grand final appearance Villasanti’s continued good form in 2003 was rewarded with selection for Australia, making him the first player from the Warriors to be selected. While he had previously played for the Junior Kiwis and had been selected in an extended Tonga squad for the 2000 World Cup – though he did not make the final team – Villasanti was born in Australia and raised by adoptive Portuguese and Spanish parents. He played one Test against New Zealand and then went on the 2003 Kangaroo tour but played no Tests.

Villasanti played 96 games for the Warriors and finished off with a few for Cronulla in 2006 before suffering a serious knee injury, forcing his early retirement. He returned to country football in 2011 and won a premiership with the Sawtell Panthers in Group 2.

He is probably best remembered for his brutal and dubious hit in the 2002 grand final on Brad Fittler.

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11. Michael Vella

Years active: 1998–2011
Clubs: Parramatta, Hull Kingston Rovers (UK)
Club games: 280 (27 tries)
Representative career: Tests: 8; NSW: 10
Michael Vella was a hard-hitting inspirational forward for Parramatta, New South Wales and Australia. Making his debut halfway during 1998, by the next year Vella was representing New South Wales and Australia and winning the Dally M rookie of the year.

Vella played six Tests for Australia, winning the 1999 Tri-nations and being part of the 2000 World Cup squad, although he was not selected for the final. He played all ten of his Origin matches from the bench between 1999 and 2002, winning five and drawing two games.

During the period between 1998 and 2002, Parramatta made the finals every year and reached the 2001 grand final, losing to an Andrew Johns-inspired Newcastle Knights. Vella’s fortunes waned with the club’s over the next couple of years and he lost his representative positions; however, he played from the bench in each of the club’s 2005 and 2006 finals campaigns. This was all the more remarkable after the forward had been diagnosed with thyroid cancer during 2005.

After nearly 160 games for the Eels, Vella joined Hull KR in the English Super League and played a further 121 matches. He captained the club to consecutive finals appearance in 2010 and 2011. Vella has also represented Malta.

12. Mick Veivers

Honours: Souths Brisbane team of the century, Member of the Order of Australia
Years active: 1958–69
Clubs: Souths Brisbane (QLD), Souths Toowoomba (QLD), Manly
Representative career: Tests: 6; Queensland: 11; New South Wales: 4
Nickname: The Farmer
Mick Veivers is another member of the famous Queensland sporting family (see above). Veivers was the first player to play for Queensland and New South Wales in consecutive years and is likely the only former government minister to make our list (apologies to Michael Cleary).

After representing Queensland in 1961, when they won two matches in the interstate series, Veivers first represented Australia in 1962 in the second and third Ashes Tests. He missed out on the 1963 Kangaroo tour and after a year-long wrangle with Queensland Rugby League joined Manly for the 1965 season.

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As often happens, his level of recognition increased after moving south and he was immediately selected for New South Wales, playing from 1965 to 1967. He played four further Tests – two in 1965 against New Zealand and two in Australia’s 1966 Ashes victory over Great Britain. In the second Ashes Test that year, known as ‘The Battle of Brisbane’, British forward Bill Ramsey was sent off for kicking Veivers in the head. Veivers later quipped, “They reckon he was limping when he left because he’d hurt his foot on my head”.

Veivers was unluckily overlooked again for the 1967 Kangaroo tour. He played in Manly’s 1966 and 1968 finals campaigns but was unfortunate to miss Manly’s 1968 grand final due to a knee injury.

Despite being a rough forward, Veivers had skills, once winning a game for Manly with a 50-metre field goal.

On playing Great Britain in 1962, Veivers said, as per Men of League: “The Poms beat us 17-10 and their big Welsh winger Billy Boston scored two tries. When Billy made one break I thought I had his measure. I said to myself ‘I’m going to put this b#&% into the second tier of the grandstand’. Well, I didn’t count on his body swerve and pace. I touched his boot, and that was about it.”

13. Paul Vautin

Honours: Dally M second rower of the year 1983, Dally M captain of the year 1987
Years active: 1977–91
Clubs: Wests Brisbane (QLD), Manly, St Helens (UK), Easts
Club games (excluding Brisbane Wests): 259 (25 tries, 2 goals, 2 field goals)
Representative career: Tests: 13; Queensland: 22
Nickname: Fatty
Before becoming the Clown Prince of the Footy Show and even before his remarkable State of Origin coaching performance in 1995, Paul Vautin was a very good football player.

Vautin commenced his career as a teenager for Wests in Brisbane. He moved to Manly in 1979 and impressed as an excellent defensive second-rower with a high work rate. By 1981 Manly returned to finals football after two lean years and reached the 1982 and 1983 grand finals, losing to the champion Parramatta side of the era.

Vautin’s displays led to selection for the 1982 State of Origin series, the first full series played under Origin rules. He played a Test that year as an injury replacement for Ray Price but did not gain selection on the 1982 Kangaroo tour.

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Vautin was a fixture for Queensland from 1982 to 1990, often as vice-captain to Wally Lewis. Overall Vautin won 15 of the 22 matches he played – he missed New South Wales’s 1986 clean sweep through injury. He captained the team as injury cover for Lewis in 1988 winning Game 1, and again in Game 1 of 1990 (losing), after which he was dropped and played no further Origin matches. He was only Queensland’s third Origin captain after Wally Lewis and Arthur Beetson.

Wayne Bennett on a Vautin run in 1987 Game 2, as per NRL.com, “He didn’t have any great footwork, Paul. He wasn’t a big guy and he had no great speed but he just lined a guy up and ran over the top of him. A couple more came at him, but he just went for 15 or 20 metres and left bodies behind him.”

Vautin appeared in six Tests from 1982 to 1985 as he vied for spots with Ray Price, Wayne Pearce and others. After missing the 1986 Kangaroo tour due to a broken arm, Vautin played his first full series against Great Britain in 1988 and toured New Zealand in 1989. Vautin was vice-captain on that tour and captained Australia in three minor matches.

Vautin became captain of Manly in 1985. In 1987 he led Manly to a premiership victory over Canberra and was named Dally M captain of the year. In 1989 Vautin guested for St Helens and led them in a Challenge Cup final, losing 27-0 to Wigan. His form waned thereafter and he spent his final two seasons with Easts, retiring after more than 300 top-level games.

Paul Fatty Vautin at the Logies for the Footy Show

(CC BY-SA 2.0, Eva Rinaldi)

Bench

14. Jack Vievers
Souths Brisbane, Queensland; 1940s–1950s; Queensland: 4
Prop. Played in Queensland’s 1953 drawn interstate series against New South Wales and against the American All Stars and was the Brisbane Premiership’s player of the year. Three-time premiership winner and member of Souths Brisbane Team of the Century. Patriarch of the famous Queensland sporting family.

15. Suliasi Vunivalu
Melbourne; 2016 – present; Tests to 2018: 7 (Fiji)
Wing. Prolific try-scoring winger for Melbourne. In three years to 2018 had already played in three grand finals, winning one and scored 61 tries in only 70 matches, plus ten tries in seven matches for Fiji.

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16. Paul Vaughan
Canberra, St George Illawarra; 2013 – present; Tests to 2018: 6 (Italy), NSW: 3
Prop. Huge Canberra prop came of age for St George and played in NSW’s 2018 and 2019 State of Origin series victories. Has also played in two world cups for Italy.

17. Colin Van der Voort
Penrith; 1986–94; Nickname: Dutchman
Lock. Wholehearted Penrith forward played over 100 games for the club, including their first premiership in 1991. Ruled out due to injury for NSW in 1991 and never played for his state. He only needed to straighten his knee to be named but couldn’t do it. Named in Panthers 40 years legends team in 2006.

Honourable mention
Joe Vasta (Prop; one game for Queensland; Burdekin team of the century).

And there you have the V Team. Lots of try-scoring ability, but hard to see them troubling the big boys.

Next time we look at Team W, where all the hookers are.