Having recently posted an article about the greatest club pack of forwards, now it’s time to have a look at the backs.
Clearly, there have been some sensational club backlines over the years that I’ve been following the game, including the 1992-93 Brisbane Broncos, the ’94 Canberra Raiders, the 2007 Melbourne Storm, the Roosters of 1994, 2013 and ’18, as well as the 2011 Manly Sea Eagles.
But for sheer class and excitement, I can’t go past the Parramatta Eels that took the field against Manly in the 1982 grand final, running out 21-8 winners.
These backs were also similar to that fielded by the club in both 1981 and 1983.
1. Paul Taylor
Taylor wasn’t the biggest player going around but he was certainly the fittest and he had an incredible work rate.
He was a favourite of coach Jack Gibson and in his time at Parramatta played virtually every position except prop, wing and centre. Terrific under the high ball and a prolific defender, Taylor played over 150 games for the Eels and appeared in four grand finals, winning three premierships.
2. Neil Hunt
Hunt was a fast and elusive winger who played 100 games for the Eels, crossing for 46 tries. He also played two games for NSW in the 1983 Origin series.
3. Michael Cronin
Cronin was one of the greatest centres of all time and was the cornerstone of this backline for ten seasons. A record-breaking point scorer in his day at every level, he scored nearly 2000 points for the Eels, including 75 tries, in 216 games.
Apart from his damaging running and defence, Cronin possessed a great offload that sent many support players to the try line. He won premierships with the Eels in ’81, ’82, ’83 and ’86, and was picked NSW on 25 occasions (scoring 183 points) and Australia 33 times (scoring 305 points).
4. Steve Ella
Nicknamed ‘The Zip Zip Man’ due to his pace and elusive running, Ella formed an unbeatable centre combination with Cronin but could also play any position in the backline.
He scored over 550 points for the Eels in 153 games, including 94 tries, won those four ’80s premierships, represented NSW four times, and played for Australia on eight occasions.
5. Eric Grothe Sr
With speed to burn, Grothe delighted in running over the top defenders who got in his way. Injuries curtailed his career somewhat, but he still managed to represent the Eels on 152 occasions, crossing for 78 meat pies and winning the four aforementioned premierships.
One of the most damaging ball runners of his era, Grothe played nine games for NSW and Eight for Australia.
6. Brett Kenny
If there’s been a better five-eighth than Brett Kenny, I haven’t seen him – he consistently outplayed Wally Lewis when they opposed each other – although he was equally at home at centre or lock forward.
A fast and deceptive runner, Kenny was a prolific try scorer, crossing the line 110 times in his 265 games for Parra. Kenny won those four Parra premierships, picked up virtually every other accolade, and represented both NSW and Australia on 17 occasions.
7. Peter Sterling
Sterlo played 228 games for the Eels between 1978 and 1992 – obviously playing a central role in those four titles.
Sterling’s game management and kicking game were second to none, although he was also a strong defender, and generally two or three plays ahead of the opposition. Sterling represented NSW on 13 occasions and played 18 times for Australia.
Parramatta, along with Canterbury, dominated the 1980s and they owe most of their success to this outstanding backline.