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Opinion

Rugby league rookie cup: The class of 2001

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19th July, 2021
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The 2001 season was a good one for rookies.

Wayne Bennett named ten debutants in Queensland’s successful Origin campaign, first-year coach Michael Hagan lifted the NRL trophy, and Penrith grand final hero Todd Byrne — the man nicknamed ‘Skinny’, ‘Bones’ and ‘The Big Pretzel’, per Wikipedia — pulled on a Roosters jersey for the first time.

Let’s kick off this team with a man who possessed much more pace than Scott Sattler’s prey in the 2003 decider.

Fullback: Matt Bowen
The Cairns product began the 2001 season North Queensland’s number 14, and ended it the Cowboys’ first-choice number one — a position he clung to for 13 seasons.

A walking highlight reel, Bowen’s intercept try to settle 2005’s Origin opener enshrines his place in interstate folklore.

Wingers: Luke Lewis and Luke Rooney
This pair of 2003 premiership-winning Panthers kicked off their careers together in 2001, as Penrith picked up the wooden spoon.

Lewis was a positional nomad — he began as a winger, shifted to centre, dabbled at six and seven, then moved into the forwards at Cronulla — but this club combination and plenty of solid back-rowers pushes him to the flank in this side.

Luke Lewis

(Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Centres: Brent Tate and Steve Bell
Broncos debutant Tate and Storm rookie Bell teamed up five times for Queensland and do so again for the class of 2001.

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Five-eighth: Kurt Gidley (captain)
This rookie class isn’t flush with world-class playmakers so versatile Newcastle mainstay Kurt Gidley gets the gig at six. He also gets the captaincy, because how many blokes can say they’ve skippered their state from the bench?

Halfback: Michael Monaghan
Michael Monaghan debuted with his brother Joel for Canberra in 2001. While his sibling’s career went in a different direction (Google it, if you must), Michael became a solid half-hooker who helped Manly to the 2007 decider, then scooped up three Challenge Cups at Warrington — the standout CV among rookie halfbacks this season.

Props: Jason King and Anthony Laffranchi
This pair of NSW Origin props both won premierships with the clubs at which they debuted: King at the Eagles, Laffranchi at the Tigers.

Hooker: Mark Riddell
‘Piggy’ rounds out a solid if not spectacular front row. The Dragons debutant also gets the kicking tee so the Red V faithful can once again mimic his one-armed salute as he lines up the posts.

Second-rowers: Corey Parker and Mick Crocker
A couple of goal-kickers also fill a second row that’s certain to get under their opponents’ skin. Crocker — who began at the Roosters before moving to Melbourne and Souths — and 347-game Bronco Parker were both Queensland Origin specialists renowned for their niggle, which will make things interesting with the bloke locking the scrum.

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Lock: Paul Gallen
Gallen was another symbol of the Maroons’ dynasty… just on the wrong end of it. The Sharks stalwart eventually tasted interstate success in 2014, then an NRL title two years later.

Paul Gallen Sharks

(Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Gallen has the unfortunate distinction of being the losing-est player in NSW history, defeated in 15 of his 24 appearances in sky blue. Don’t deliver that stat in person unless you want to tempt him to flex his boxing skills.

Bench: John Morris, Iafeta Palea’aesina, Sione Faumuina, Micheal (sic) Luck
Three-hundred-game journeyman John Morris is an ideal bench utility, joined by exciting Kiwi forwards Iafeta Palea’aesina and Sione Faumuina, who debuted at the Raiders before joining Palea’aesina at the Warriors.

Another eventual Warrior — North Queensland rookie Micheal Luck — completes the interchange.

Coach: Michael Hagan
Mick Hagan beats Daniel Anderson and Terry Lamb to the post. The rookie Knights boss claimed a premiership in his first season as an NRL coach, before becoming the brains behind Mal Meninga’s Queensland regime (reportedly).

Verdict
The back five is excellent and the back row is loaded with mongrel. The halves, though, might be the difference between the class of ‘01 and a top-five berth.

Next up, 2002 — a team with no such problems with their spine.

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