This is the fifth article in a series naming each club’s best team of loyal stalwarts. Not necessarily just the one-club players, but those who turned out for the club over a long period and helped build its success and culture.
Today, Wests Tigers and the St George Illawarra Dragons, two clubs still recovering from poorly conceived NRL mergers.
Wests Tigers joined the NRL in 2000 following the merger of foundation clubs Western Suburbs Magpies and the Balmain Tigers. They won their first and only premiership in 2005.
Around 250 players have now represented the club, including four who have played 200 games or more and 18 with 100-plus games for the club. The following side is selected from players with 100 or more games in the black, white and gold.
1. Brett Hodgson – 102 games. A small but courageous performer who played well above his weight, was a prolific point scorer and a member of the victorious 2005 team.
2. David Nofoaluma – 163 games, and counting. A one-club man and underrated winger who is one of the hardest ball runners to contain in the NRL.
3. Chris Lawrence – 253 games. A one-club man with 15 years in the bank for the Tigers. Equally at home in either the centres or the back row and a great servant of the club.
4. Blake Ayshford – 104 games. A classy outside back who spent five seasons with the Tigers.
5. Daniel Fitzhenry – 137 games. A speedy and elusive player who could fill in anywhere in the backline, and won a premiership with the club in 2005.
6. Benji Marshall – 257 games. Wests’ greatest player, magician and favourite son who continues defy his age. A prolific point scorer and a member of the 2005 premiership-winning team.
7. Luke Brooks – 172 games, and counting. A one-club player and an enigma wrapped inside a puzzle. Yet to reach his full potential.
8. John Skandalis – 185 games. An old-style front rower and forward leader who played a big part in the club’s 2005 premiership win.
9. Robbie Farah – 277 games. A club legend who holds the record for the most games for the club, one of the best dummy halves to play in the NRL era, and a key player in their 2005 premiership victory.
10. Keith Galloway – 173 games. An imposing figure on the field who did the hard yards for the team every time he crossed the white line.
11. Anthony Laffranchi – 103 games. A relentless forward who combined great defence with ball skills, and was part of the 2005 Wests premiership winning team.
12. Chris Heighington – 201 games. A wholehearted player who spent ten years with the club, gave his absolute best every week, and came off the bench in the 2005 grand final.
13. Liam Fulton – 162 games. A clever and hard-working lock forward who spent 11 years with the club and was part of the 2005 premiership squad.
14. Dene Halatau – 180 games. A very versatile player who could fill in either in the forwards or at centre and part of the 2005 premiership winning team.
15. Aaron Woods – 146 games. A talented forward who continually racks up the metres and was a regular performer for both Australia and NSW.
16. Bryce Gibbs – 155 games. A big, powerful front rower with just enough ball skills to keep the opposition guessing. Came off the bench in Wests 2005 premiership win.
17. Todd Payten – 151 games. A clever forward with a high work rate, who scored a try in the 2005 premiership victory.
Players who were eligible but not selected were second rowers Ben Galea and Mark O’Neill, front rowers Sauaso Sue and Ava Seumanufagai, and winger Beau Ryan.
St George Illawarra Dragons
The St George Illawarra Dragons entered the NRL in 1999 following the merger of the St George Dragons and the Illawarra Steelers. They made it as far as the grand final that year, losing in controversial circumstances to Melbourne, and then had to wait until 2010 for their first and only premiership.
Some 250 players have represented the club to date, with five players notching up over 200 games and 20 players reaching 100-plus games. The following side is selected from players with 100 or more games in the Red V.
1. Brett Morris – 169 games. A prolific try scorer and a real speedster who was one of the best outside backs to ever play the game. Part of the 2010 premiership winning team.
2. Jason Nightingale – 266 games. A one-club player for the Dragons who combined an often unorthodox attacking style with an excellent defensive game. Scored two tries in the Dragons’ grand final victory in 2010.
3. Matt Cooper – 243 games. Spent his whole career with the Dragons, knew his way to the line and had a superb defensive game. Premiership winner in 2010.
4. Mark Gasnier – 174 games. Big, powerful, fast and elusive. Gasnier was one of the best centres to play in the NRL era. Won a premiership with the Dragons in 2010.
5. Nathan Blacklock – 114 games. A freakish performer who was almost impossible to mark and had the speed and footwork to score a try from anywhere on the field.
6. Gareth Widdop – 125 games. Classy half with a great kicking game and who was just as comfortable taking the line on himself as setting up his outside backs. Very reliable goal kicker.
7. Ben Hornby – 273 games. A courageous one-club player who holds the records for most games for the club and captained them to their first premiership in 2010.
8. Luke Bailey – 119 games. A whole-hearted and relentless performer who gave everything for the team week after week.
9. Dean Young – 209 games. A tough and versatile player who spent his entire ten-year career with the club, winning a premiership with them in 2010.
10. Jason Ryles – 156 games. A big and powerful forward who generally dominated the opposition. He ended playing in the grand final against the Dragons in their 2010 victory.
11. Beau Scott – 119 games. A versatile and talented enforcer who could play either in the forwards or in the backs. A key part of their 2010 premiership win.
12. Lance Thompson – 132 games. One of the Dragons’ favourite sons who joined the merger from the St George Dragons, where he debuted as a 17-year-old. Tough, relentless and a great club man.
13. Shaun Timmins – 124 games. A versatile player at both club and representative level whose career was unfortunately hampered by injury.
14. Trent Barrett – 154 games. A schoolboy prodigy who joined the merged club from the Illawarra Steelers, and was one of the best halves of the NRL era.
15. Ben Creagh – 270 games. A one-club favourite and classy second rower who spent 14 years with the club after making his debut as an 18-year-old winger.
16. Tyson Frizell – 165 games. A powerful and hard working second rower who always put his hand up to take the pressure runs and make the big tackles for his team.
17. Matt Prior – 121 games. An old style no-frills front rower who always gave his best for the team.
The Dragons who were eligible but who didn’t make this team are mercurial five-eighth Jamie Soward, hard-running centre Euan Aitken, and forwards Jack De Belin, Tariq Sims, Justin Poore, Dan Hunt, Leeson Ah Mau and Trent Merrin.
So, who wins in a fantasy match-up between these two teams? Both sides have a solid pack of forwards, an excellent spine and a strong bench, however, I believe that the Dragons have a far superior back line and greater point scoring ability.
Dragons to win!