This article imagines a clash between a team made up of winners of the Clive Churchill Medal and a team of winners of the Harry Sunderland Trophy, which are awarded to the man of the match in the Australian and English grand finals respectively.
The Clive Churchill Medal is awarded to the player judged to be man of the match in the NRL grand final, and was created to honour Clive Churchill.
It has been awarded ever since the 1986 NSWRL season when its first recipient was Parramatta’s Peter Sterling.
The medal has also since been awarded retrospectively to the man of the match in grand finals as far back as 1954, however this article only considers players awarded from 1986 onwards.
Here’s the team – the details in the brackets are the year they won and the club that they were playing for at the time.
1. Billy Slater (2009 and 2017, Melbourne Storm)
Two-time medallist Billy Slater takes the one jersey from his Melbourne Storm successor Ryan Papenhuyzen and Newcastle’s Robbie O’Davis, who shifts to the wing.
2. Darius Boyd (2010, St George Illawarra)
Boyd won his medal for his grand final performance at fullback but is equally at home on the wing, and knows the way to the try line, particularly when playing alongside Greg Inglis.
3. Greg Inglis (2007, Melbourne Storm)
Inglis played five-eighth for the Storm in the 2007 decider but can play anywhere in the back line.
4. Jack Wighton (2019, Canberra Raiders)
He is one of only four players to receive the award when playing for the losing grand finalists.
5. Robbie O’Davis (1997, Newcastle Knights)
O’Davis won his award playing fullback in the Knights’ last-gasp victory over Manly in 1997 but has plenty of experience on the wing.
6. Darren Lockyer – captain (2000, Brisbane Broncos)
He is another who won the medal while playing fullback but later took his career to a new level when he moved closer to the action. Other five-eighth contenders were Luke Keary and Cliff Lyons.
7. Johnathan Thurston (2015, North Queensland Cowboys)
If anyone knows how to win a close grand final, it’s Thurston. Some quality halfbacks in Peter Sterling, Ricky Stuart, Allan Langer, Geoff Toovey, Brett Kimmorley, Scott Prince, Cooper Cronk, Daly Cherry-Evans and Nathan Cleary all missed out.
8. Brent Kite (2008, Manly Sea Eagles)
Props don’t often win the medal, but Brent Kite’s performance against the Storm pack in 2008 saw him deservedly take the prize.
9. Andrew Johns (2001, Newcastle Knights)
He is better known as a halfback but he has played for both Australia and NSW in the nine jersey, and edges out Luke Priddis from Penrith.
10. Willie Mason (2004, Canterbury Bulldogs)
He was a deserved winner for his performance against the Roosters in 2004, and always enjoyed a clash with the English.
11. Gorden Tallis (1998, Brisbane Broncos)
He scored a try in a dominant performance against the Bulldogs’ pack.
12. Sam Burgess (2014, South Sydney Rabbitohs)
He put in a heroic performance to play the whole game while badly injured to help Souths win their first title in 43 years.
13. Bradley Clyde (1989 and 1991, Canberra Raiders)
The relentless performer and two-time medal winner takes the 13 jersey ahead of Brad Mackay from St George, Glenn Stewart from Manly and Jim Dymock from the Bulldogs.
14. Shaun Berrigan (2006, Brisbane Broncos)
He is a great bench option who can cover hooker and most back-line positions with ease.
15. Paul Dunn (1988, Canterbury Bulldogs)
He was the best forward on the ground in their controversial win over Balmain.
16. David Furner (1994, Canberra Raiders)
The medal win capped off a great season for Furner.
17. Craig Fitzgibbon (2002, Sydney Roosters)
He scored a try and kicked five from five to claim the medal in 2002.
That’s a very handy team, with a spine loaded with playmakers, some great outside backs to capitalise, a very strong forward pack, and plenty of talent on the bench. They’ll certainly take some beating.
The Harry Sunderland Trophy is awarded to the player judged to be the man of the match in the English Super League grand final.
Named in honour of Harry Sunderland, an Australian who was a rugby league administrator in both Australia and the England, the trophy was first awarded in 1965, however only trophy winners from 1986 onwards have been considered for this team.
Here’s the team.
1. Paul Wellens (2006, St Helens)
He played nearly 500 games for St Helens and was the best player in the English Super League by a country mile in 2006, winning practically every individual award there was to win, as St Helens swept all before them.
2. Jason Robinson OBE (1998, Wigan Warriors)
One of the best outside backs to play in either code, he scored Wigan’s only try in the 1998 final. He played over 300 games for Wigan and 19 rugby league internationals before switching to rugby union where he played 56 Tests and went on to captain the English team.
3. Joe Lydon (1987, Wigan Warriors)
He played 30 Tests for England and is one of only three players, along with Paul Wellens and George Nicholls, to have won the Harry Sunderland Trophy, the Lance Todd Trophy and the Man of Steel Award.
4. Alan Tait (1989 and 1990, Widnes Vikings)
He was a cracking outside back and dual international who was the first player to win back-to-back Harry Sunderland Trophies.
5. Leon Pryce (2005, Bradford Bulls)
He won the award from the wing in Bradford’s 15-6 victory over Leeds.
6. Danny McGuire (2015 and 2017, Leeds Rhinos)
He was a prolific try scorer who was instrumental in winning eight Super League championships with Leeds.
7. Rob Burrow MBE (2007 and 2011, Leeds Rhinos)
The Leeds and English legend partnered McGuire in Leeds’ eight championship victories.
8. Andy Platt (1992, Wigan Warriors)
He played over 500 first-grade games and nearly 30 Tests, and was one of the best forwards in the game when at his peak.
9. James Roby (2014 and 2020, St Helens)
He is a seasoned international with nearly 500 first-grade games under his belt to date. Roby is the ultimate competitor.
10. Les Boyd (1986, Warrington Wolves)
The Australian hard man headed to the UK to avoid the constant visits to the NSW judiciary.
11. Andy Farrell OBE (1996 and 1997, Wigan Warriors)
He was a dual international with over 50 Tests in both codes to his name. Farrell made his rugby league Test debut at just 18 years of age, was one of the most dominant players of the 1990s, and was equally at home in either the back row or at five-eighth.
12. Kevin Sinfield – captain (2009 and 2012, Leeds Rhinos)
Another two-time winner, Sinfield was a versatile player and prolific point scorer who has won nearly every award possible.
13. Chris Joynt (1993 and 2000, St Helens)
He was talented, tough and versatile, and remarkably won his trophies seven years apart.
14. Liam Farrell (2016, Wigan Warriors)
He is a prolific try-scoring back rower who put in a tireless performance in the 2016 final to take out the trophy.
15. Luke Thompson (2019, St Helens)
He was an exceptional player in the UK, but is yet to reproduce that form with the Bulldogs.
16. Lee Smith (2008, Leeds Rhinos)
He was a versatile outside back and a big lump of a lad who had an outstanding season in 2008.
17. Henry Paul (1999, Bradford Bulls)
A precocious and talented Kiwi lock forward, five-eighth and goal kicker, Paul played rugby league for NZ and rugby union for England.
This team is more than a match for the Clive Churchill medallists and just might be favourites if the game becomes a battle of the forwards.
They have some very creative players in their spine, and Jason Robinson would be a big threat, particularly in broken play.
Who do you think wins this one?