I have been watching rugby league for about 40 years now. I am very weary Dragons fan but a satisfied Queensland fan.
So, it stands to reason that my favourite players over the years have either worn the Red V or the Maroon, and in some cases, both (God bless you, Mark Coyne).
In the comments section of a recent article, someone mentioned Brad Clyde’s name. I responded saying that Clyde was one of my all-time favourite players, despite him playing for the Raiders (mostly) and New South Wales.
That did get me thinking, who are my favourite rugby league players over the years who didn’t play for either of my teams?
Well, I managed to come up with a list of five, trying to cover my entire rugby league following career.
228 first grade matches, 13 Origins, 22 Tests/World Cup appearances, 4 premierships, 2 Dally M POTY, 2 Rothman’s Medals, 1 Golden Boot, 1 Clive Churchill Medal
When discussions of “the next Immortal” roll around, Sterling’s name rarely gets a mention. And for the life of me, I don’t know why.
His record and achievements stack up against anyone who has ever played the game. He was the on-field brains behind the Parramatta dynasty from 1981 to 1986 and was the dominant player in first grade over the ’80s.
Moreover, especially when I was a neutral observer, he was an absolute joy to watch. Almost every match was a live instructional video on how to read a defence and organise an attack.
He was the first player to score a perfect ten game in the Dally M Medal (unfortunately, against my Dragons) and, in 1990, scored nine in a losing effort against a near State of Origin-strength Broncos.
Sadly, Sterling’s career ended after a David Gillespie late hit in 1992 which finally rendered his chronic shoulder unsuitable for first grade football.
Sterling’s genius in reading a football match translated effortlessly to his role as expert commentator (in my view, the best ever) for Channel Nine.
In fact, he suffers a bit from ‘Richie Benaud syndrome’: where a great player is also so good in their media role that their brilliant playing career gets somewhat forgotten.
254 first grade matches, 19 Origins, 28 Tests/World Cup appearances, 5 premierships
I should hate Lazarus. He played in five Origin-winning series for NSW. Worse still, three of his five grand final victories were against the Dragons.
In fact, his cartwheel after full-time in the 1999 grand final was close to my lowest rugby league moment.
That aside, rugby league has rarely seen a winner like “The Brick With Eyes”.
He’s the only player to win grand finals for three different clubs (and five in total).
He played in five consecutive grand finals from 1989 to 1993 and his overall winning percentage in first grade was over 70 per cent (to put that into perspective, Craig Bellamy’s winning percentage as a coach is just under 70 per cent).
It’s little wonder that Wayne Bennett coaxed Lazarus to the Broncos in 1992.
Lazarus was exactly the sort of player Bennett loves to build a forward pack around – big, strong, smart and virtually mistake-free – and the results were instantaneous, with premierships in 1992 and 1993.
And no doubt, Lazarus also had a big influence on a young Shane Webke.
But in writing all this about one of the game’s greatest props, I can’t help but wonder: would he get more than 50 minutes a game in NRL in 2021?
Indeed, would he even be a regular starter?
214 first grade matches, 12 Origins, 24 Tests/WC appearances, 2 premierships, 2 Clive Churchill Medals
Thirty years ago, Brad Clyde was the prototype for the modern edge forward: strong in defence, fast and smart in attack and an elite athlete’s engine.
Even in the legendary Raiders team from 1989 to 1994, Clyde stood out.
I still remember a call of a Canberra game by Greg Hartley and Peter Peters in the early ’90s.
At one stage, Clyde was taking the ball up for yet another hit up and Hartley exclaimed: “There’s Clyde again – his work rate is incredible,” showing that even a veteran rugby league man like Hartley had rarely seen anything like it.
Clyde was so dominant, even as a teenager, that it is hard to comprehend that his representative career was finished by the age of 24.
Injuries, Super League and that unfortunate training camp incident with the horse all conspired against him (and us as fans) and his first grade career was over, way too soon, at the age of 30.
I see Clyde around my local suburb quite a bit.
He’s only two years older than me but such is the awe in which I held him as a teenager, I have always been too shy to go up to him and tell him that I loved watching him play.
Maybe one day!
324 first grade matches, 17 Origins, 18 Tests/World Cup appearances, 2 premierships, 1 Clive Churchill Medal
If there was ever a player I would have loved to have played at my club, it was Luke Lewis.
He was an out-and-out footballer who was no fuss – he just did his job and did it very, very well. And, as the following list shows, he could do it in almost any position.
•Second row: 109
That’s four (diverse) positions where he has started more than 50 first grade games (the average first grade career is 43 games).
I could only find one other player who managed that in even three positions: the mighty Ruben Wiki.
While Lewis played State of Origin as a wing/centre in the 2004 winning series (off the back of the Panthers’ 2003 premiership), his representative career didn’t really kick off until 2009, when he moved to lock for Penrith.
After that, he was a regular for NSW and Australia and of course was the Clive Churchill Medallist in Cronulla’s inaugural grand final victory.
115 first grade matches, 93 tries, 9 Origins, 2 Tests/WC appearances, 2 premierships (so far)
Before his career goes to die at the Bulldogs, I want to say it out loud: JAC is pure box office.
His try-scoring rate is ridiculous and his speed off the mark must be one of Craig Bellamy’s favourite toys as a coach.
And while he is more than just a fast winger with finishing skills – his positional and back-up play are also superb – what I love most about watching JAC is his sheer joy in playing first grade football.
It’s as if he knows he has been given a gift to entertain and is taking that responsibility very seriously.
But it’s not all fun and games – his 78.5 per cent win rate in over 100 games for the Storm shows that he loves a contest as well.
He has 14 tries in ten games this season. Nathan Blacklock’s NRL record of 27 is within reach and, after that, you need to go back to 1954 since 28 or more tries were scored in a season.
I, for one, hope he gives that a shake.
So, Roarers, who have your favourite ‘enemies’ been over the years?