Not everything about old-school rugby league was as great as dewy-eyed nostalgia would have us believe.
Back in the ‘90s, fans had to endure the bitter Super League war, wall-to-wall cigarette ads and the Broncos actually winning matches.
But there was certainly something magical about the cotton jerseys and Tina Turner anthems that defined the era — and these blokes would’ve fit right in. From the unlucky to the unshorn, meet the eight current NRL players who’d love to hop into the DeLorean and take a trip back in time.
Remember when Moylan’s former Penrith teammates reportedly dobbed on him for a having a few beers after an away game in Melbourne back in 2017? No wonder they’re former teammates.
The bloke deserved a dressing room who’d join him at the drip tray rather than rat on him for being there, and there were plenty of those knocking around before footy turned professional.
Cleary is another Penrith product who would’ve looked better in a brown Chocolate Soldiers jumper rather than a black Panthers one. First, that carved-from-granite chin belongs on the cover of an old-school rugby league Week magazine.
Second, there was no such thing as TikTok back in the day.
Wind back the clock a quarter of a century and a Broncos player this good would’ve collected a premiership medal nearly as often as he celebrated Christmas. In 2020, though, Haas plays a lone hand in a struggling team — think Allan Border circa 1985.
If Haas is the Allan Border of rugby league, then Friend is the Stuart MacGill, stuck behind the greatest of all time in his position. While Cameron ‘Warnie’ Smith racked up 42 Origins before retiring from rep footy in 2017, the Roosters hooker is yet to play one, first overlooked for Andrew McCullough in 2018 then ruled out through injury last year.
A long-awaited debut might come this November, but after 13 seasons of assaulting his body at NRL level, the 30-year-old’s prime is in the past.
When Ricky Stuart said Papalii “will go down as one of those greats of this club”, the Canberra coach was speaking with authority — Stuart himself is Raiders royalty and he played with every other member of the Green Machine’s honour roll.
Those early ‘90s Raiders weren’t just good, they were scary, and the sight of Big Papa squeezing into a Canberra Milk jumper to pummel blokes in tandem with Mal Meninga or Glenn Lazarus would’ve only cranked up the fear factor.
Plonk the Dogs captain in the 1980s and he’s a worthy foe for Ray Price — a pair of punch-above-their-weight perpetual motion machines tackling themselves to a standstill in one of those infamously gruelling Canterbury-Parramatta grand finals. Keep him in the 21st century and he’s stuck toiling for a team that couldn’t be further from a decider.
The Gold Coast man is moving to Redfern next year — but if we’re sticking him in the time machine, then Leichhardt must be the destination. Arrow’s flowing locks would look right at home packing down next to Kerry Hemsley and Kevin Hardwick at a packed Lilyfield Rectangle.
The young English Bronco deserves his spot on this list for his name alone — Herbie Farnworth is a moniker that belongs on a 1935 Challenge Cup final team sheet rather than an electronic Suncorp Stadium scoreboard in the year 2020. See also: Lindsay Collins, Billy Burns and Patrick Carrigan.