I watched a replay of the Super League grand-final earlier today, and like last week’s NRL decider, it was both entertaining and close, with just two points in it at the end.
I was interested to note that five Australia-born players took the field in the game, Lachlan Coote, Kevin Naiquama and Sione Mata’utai for St Helens, and James Maloney and Josh Drinkwater for Catalans. All but four of the points scored in the match came from these players.
It made me wonder how many Australia-born players are actually playing in the ESL, and could any of them still make it in the NRL?
Well, according to my unreliable maths, there are 36 Australian born players spread across the 12 Super League clubs. Interestingly, two-thirds of them are backs. Most of the Aussies look like they’re well past it now by NRL standards.
I reckon only the following few could make a successful return to the NRL if they so desired: Sione Mata’utai, Jackson Hastings and Bevan French.
Anyway, just for fun, here’s a team of Australian-born expats currently playing in the ESL. Their ages are in brackets.
1. Lachlan Coote – St Helens (31)
Coote last played in the NRL with the Cowboys in 2018, and since heading to the UK has won three back-to-back premierships with St Helens, been a prolific point scorer for the club, and gained selection in the Great Britain team.
2. Bevan French – Wigan Warriors (25)
A freakish attacking player who can handle both fullback and wing, French is a prolific try-scorer having crossed for 61 tries in his 81 top level games. He last played in the NRL with Parramatta in 2019.
3. Kevin Naiqama – St Helens (32)
Left the Wests Tigers in 2018 and has just won his third championship, scoring two tries in the final.
4. Shaun Kenny-Dowall – Hull KR (33)
Last played in the NRL for Newcastle in 2019 and has been a consistent performer for the Rovers over the last two seasons.
5. Ricky Leutele – Huddersfield Giants (31)
His last full season in the NRL was with Cronulla in 2018, and since then he’s had just the odd game with both the Toronto Wolfpack and the Melbourne Storm due to Covid interruptions. He hasn’t locked down a permanent spot in the Giants team as yet.
6. James Maloney – Catalans (35)
Left the Panthers at the end of 2019 for the sunny south of France and has been one of the Catalans’ most influential players over the last couple of years. Now retired from the big time.
7. Jackson Hastings – Wigan Warriors (25)
One time NRL problem child who found his feet in England after leaving Manly and the NRL at the end of the 2018 season. He won the “Man of Steel” award in 2019 and gained Test selection for Great Britain in the same year. About to return to the NRL with Wests Tigers so I guess anything could happen.
8. Matt Prior – Leeds Rhinos (34)
A rock solid performer who played his last game in the NRL for Cronulla in 2019 and who has settled in well at Leeds.
9. Nathan Peats – Leigh Centurions (29)
Finished his five-year stint with the Titans in 2020 and has spent the last four games of the 2021 season on loan from Leigh to Huddersfield.
10. Korbin Sims – Hull KR (29)
The former Dragon began his stint in the ESL in 2021 and spent the latter half of the season playing from the bench.
11. Brad Takairangi – Hull KR (32)
A versatile performer who played with Parramatta in 2020 before heading to the UK, where he has spent his time playing in the backline for the Rovers.
12. Joel Thompson – St Helens (33)
Reliable performer who last played in the NRL in 2020 with Manly.
13. Sione Mata’utai – St Helens (25)
Just finished his eighth season in the top grade and is still only 25. Mata’utai has transitioned from baby faced winger to a hard-running and crash-tackling back rower/centre and he was an important part of St Helens’ 2021 championship win. Last played in the NRL in 2020 with Newcastle.
14. Josh Reynolds – Hull FC (32)
Reynolds can attract a bit of controversy and was probably happy to leave Wests Tigers for the ESL after the 2020 season.
15. Jason Clark: Warrington Wolves (32)
A wholehearted player who was cut by South Sydney at the end of the 2018 season, and he’s been a solid performer for the Wolves since joining them in 2019.
16. Darcy Lussick: Salford Red Devils (32)
Played his last game in the NRL for Manly in 2018 and joined Salford in 2021 via the Toronto Wolf Pack. Has hardly set the ESL on fire playing just a handful of games off the bench for the Red Devils.
17. Pauli Pauli – Salford Red Devils (27)
Left Newcastle and the NRL at the end of the 2017 season and joined Salford during the 2019 season, originally on a loan deal from Wakefield Trinity.
So that’s a pretty ordinary squad in my book, and they were the best of a bad bunch. It reinforces the idea that the ESL is treated like a retirement home by a lot of players from the NRL, and the fact that these players can get a run at all, doesn’t say much for the overall standard of the ESL.