This is the seventh article in a series naming each club’s best team of loyal stalwarts. Not necessarily just one-club players, but those who turned out for the club over a long period and helped build its success and culture.
Today, I cover the Newcastle Knights and the Canberra Raiders, two teams who have a fanatical following.
The Knights joined the competition in 1988 and have two premierships in their trophy cabinet. Some 328 players have represented Newcastle to date, with eight notching up over 200 games, and 29 players with 100 games or more. The following team of stalwarts is selected from players who have played more than 100 games.
1. Robbie O’Davis – 223 games
O’Davis was a dynamic one-club performer who spent 13 years at the Knights and at his peak, he was one of the best attacking fullbacks in the game. He won two premierships with the Knights.
2. Adam MacDougall – 158 games
MacDougall was a two-time premiership winner and fan favourite who enjoyed getting personal with the opposition.
3. Matt Gidley – 221 games
Gidley was a one-club player for the Knights who was part of their premiership-winning side in 2001. He was a gifted attacking player with great footwork and a perfect flick pass.
4. Mark Hughes – 161 games
Hughes was a two-time premiership winner who spent his entire career at Newcastle. He was a gifted player who was instrumental in their two premiership titles.
5. Akuila Uate – 161 games
Uate was an absolute powerhouse who brought the fans to their feet whenever he had the ball. He had speed to burn, was quite happy to run straight over the top of the opposition, and was a prolific try scorer.
6. Michael Hagan – 111 games
Hagan was a classy organiser and on-field general who spent five seasons with the Knights.
7. Andrew Johns – 249 games
Johns is a rugby league Immortal, two-time premiership winner, club legend, prolific point scorer and the most influential player ever to play for Newcastle.
8. Tony Butterfield – 229 games
Butterfield was a rock in the Knights’ pack for 13 years, part of their inaugural squad in 1988, and a key player in their successful premiership campaign in 1997.
9. Danny Buderus – 257 games
Buderus was one of the best hookers of the NRL era, a Newcastle legend, and a key member of their 2001 premiership-winning team.
10. Paul Harragon – 169 games
Big, brutal and a one-club Knights legend, Harragon started his career with the club as a 19-year-old in their inaugural season, and went on to lead them to their first premiership win ten years later.
11. Steve Simpson – 216 games
‘Punishing’ is the word that springs to mind when I think of Simpson. A one-club man and 2001 premiership winner.
12. Marc Glanville – 188 games
Glanville was a superb back-rower who combined excellent balls skills, a strong running game, and some deadly defence. A premiership winner with the club in 1997.
13. Bill Peden – 190 games
A no-name player in a team of stars, Peden was a fan favourite and a versatile forward who played well above his weight. He won two premierships with the Knights and never took a backward step.
14. Kurt Gidley – 251 games
Gidley was a club legend and the ideal bench choice who could play virtually everywhere except prop forward. Skilful, fearless and a prolific point scorer who spent 15 years with the club.
15. Mark Sargent – 126 games
Sargent was a big and fearless front-rower who revelled in the tough stuff. One of the Knights’ most consistent performers during his time with the club.
16. Daniel Saifiti – 119 games, and counting
Saifiti is a young giant, and current club captain, who is a weapon in both attack and defence.
17. Matt Parsons – 106 games
Parsons was one of the biggest forwards to play in the NRL era at two metres tall and 135 kilograms. He had skill to go with his size, and was an important part of their 2001 premiership win.
Some of the quality Knights players who qualified but weren’t named in this side include talented backs in Matthew Johns, Jarrod Mullen, James McManus, Dane Gagai, and Sean Rudder, while forwards Chris Houston, David Boyd, Robbie McCormack and Adam Woolnough can also consider themselves unlucky not to get a run.
The Raiders joined the competition in 1982, six years before the Knights, and have won three premierships. Some 372 players have called Canberra home over the last 40 years, one who has played over 300 games, 11 with 200-plus games, and 36 who have played 100 or more games for the club. The following team of stalwarts is selected from players who have played more than 130 games.
1. Gary Belcher – 148 games
Belcher was the best fullback in the game in the late ’80s and early ’90s. He was a prolific try scorer, excellent goal kicker, and a two-time premiership winner with the Raiders.
2. Brett Mullins – 183 games
Mullins was an electrifying ball runner, and fan favourite, who could score a try from anywhere on the field. A premiership winner in 1994.
3. Mal Meninga – 166 games
Meninga is a rugby league Immortal and Raiders legend who led the team to three premierships. He is one of the greatest footballers of all time.
4. Ruben Wiki – 224 games
Wiki was a Kiwi and Raiders legend who won a premiership with Canberra in 1994. He was one of the hardest players to ever play the game, and combined power running with punishing defence.
5. Ken Nagas – 142 games
Nagas was a freakish player who spent his whole career with the Raiders. He had explosive speed and dazzling footwork, and was a threat from anywhere on the paddock. He was a premiership winner in 1994.
6. Laurie Daley – 244 games
Daley played his entire 14-year career with the Raiders and formed a deadly combination with Mal Meninga. He was one of the best players of all time, an exciting ball runner and a powerful defender. He won three premierships with the Raiders.
7. Ricky Stuart – 203 games
Another three-time premiership winner with the Raiders, Stuart was a gifted and resilient halfback who controlled the game to perfection.
8. Josh Papali’i – 239 games, and counting
Papali’i is close to the best front-rower in the game at the moment, and a dangerous attacking weapon in the opponent’s red zone.
9. Steve Walters – 228 games
Walters was a powerhouse hooker/forward who was the best in the business in the early ’90s. Another three-time premiership winner with the Raiders.
10. Dane Tilse – 201 games
Tilse was a giant of a man who spent ten years with the Raiders and featured in four finals campaigns.
11. Bradley Clyde – 178 games
Clyde was a two-time premiership winner with the Raiders and one of the best back-rowers to play the game in the early ’90s. He was a tireless defender and a very effective ball runner.
12. David Furner – 200 games
Furner was a rugged defender, talented ball player and a prolific point scorer for the Raiders, and was one of their best in their successful 1994 premiership campaign.
13. Jason Croker – 318 games
Croker played an incredible 16 seasons with the Raiders and is their only 300-plus-game player. He was a talented and versatile club legend who played every position for the club except for hooker, front row and halfback. He was a premiership winner in 1994.
14. Alan Tongue – 220 games
Tongue was a one-club player and Raiders legend who was one of their best players practically every time he took the field. He was a great little dummyhalf or lock forward, club captain, and a tireless defender.
15. Luke Davico – 176 games
Davico was a powerful front-rower who revelled in the tough stuff and played 11 years with the club.
16. Dean Lance – 160 games
A dual premiership winner with Canberra, Lance began life as a centre or five-eighth before shifting into the back row. He was part of Canberra’s inaugural team in 1982. At just 80 kilograms, Lance played well above his weight, and was one of the best defenders in the game.
17. David Shillington – 131 games
Shillington was a rugged big bopper who got the job done in the middle and was a regular selection for Australia.
The quality of this team is reinforced by the eligible players who didn’t make the cut. Players like current Raiders champions in Jarrod Croker, Jack Wighton, Jordan Rapana, Elliott Whitehead, Josh Hodgson and Sia Soliola, the illustrious Craig Bellamy, and club legends including Chris O’Sullivan, Mark McLinden, Clinton Schifcofske and Terry Campese.
They are two great teams, but who would win in a fantasy showdown? Both teams have brilliant spines, the forward battle would be epic, but I reckon the Canberra back line has far too many points in them for the Knights.