It takes a lot to win a premiership, and something like 1,400 players have now had that pleasure since the league kicked off in 1908.
However, there are countless champion players who play their whole careers and never taste a single premiership victory. Players like Stephen Roach, Andrew Ettingshausen and Josh Morris who played a combined total of 54 seasons between them without ever picking up a single premiership ring.
There are also many players who have won multiple premierships with the one club. Players like Laurie Daley who won three with Canberra, Norm Provan who won 10 in a row with St George, Cameron Smith who won three titles with the Storm, and John Sattler who won four with South Sydney, and then there’s the rare breed of player who were good enough, and lucky enough, to win premierships at more than one club. Probably less than 40 players in the history of the game. So who are these multi-club premiers? What sort of a team would they make?
Fullback – Ray Branighan.
Better known as a centre and winger, Branighan played well anywhere in the outside backs and wore the number one jersey for Australia on more than one occasion. He was part of the magnificent Souths team that won both the 1970 and 1971 premierships, scoring tries in both games, and was then recruited by Manly, where he helped them take out both the 1972 and 1973 titles, to make it a personal tally of four premierships in a row for Branighan. Injury saw him miss Manly’s 1976 triumph, but he was back again for his fifth premiership win in 1978, in what was his final game, when Manly defeated Cronulla 16-0 in the grand-final replay after drawing the first match 11 points all.
Other contenders for the number one jersey were the elusive speedster Brett Mullins who won titles with both Canberra (1994) and Eastern Suburbs (2002), and the underwhelming Darius Boyd who picked up titles with both the Broncos (2006) and the St George-Illawarra Dragons (2010).
Wingers – Brett Morris and Lote Tuqiri.
It was a long time between premiership celebrations for both of these wingers, and in Tuqiri’s case, his second premiership came after a stellar 8 year stint in the rugby ranks. There’s been no better winger in the NRL era than Brett Morris, and he picked up his first premiership with St George Illawarra in 2010, and then had to wait another nine years for his second title when he joined eventual premiers, the Sydney Roosters, in 2019. Tuqiri had to wait even longer than Morris after winning his first premiership with the Broncos as a 21 year old in 2000, with his second coming an incredible 14 years later when he fortuitously joined South Sydney in 2014, and helped them win their first premiership in 43 years.
Centres – Tony Currie and Justin Hodges.
Tony Currie was a seriously good footballer, and although he only played around 80 games in the ARL, he has two premierships to show for it. He was already a BRL Rothman’s Medal winner and QLD origin player by the time he joined the Bulldogs for three seasons in 1986, and after overcoming some injuries early in his Sydney stay, was part of the bulldogs team that won their 6th premiership in 1988. That was his last game for Canterbury and he headed back to Brisbane in 1989 to join the Broncos. Three years later, he played off the bench as the Broncos star-studded team defeated St George to win their first premiership, in what was Currie’s last game in the big league.
Fellow Queenslander Justin Hodges had a stellar career, with countless games for the maroons and 15 tests for Australia, and his first premiership came as a 20 year old in 2002 after he joined the Sydney Roosters from Brisbane in 2001, and helped them win their first premiership since 1975. He re-joined the Broncos in 2005, spending the rest of his 11 year career with them, and scored a try from fullback to pick up his second premiership in 2006 when the Broncos defeated the Storm 15-8 in the decider. A third Queensland contender, Justin O’Neill, was also worthy of consideration, having won premierships with both Melbourne (2012) and North QLD (2015).
Halves – Kevin Walters at 5/8, and Johnny Mayes half back.
There’s some real talent to choose from in the halves but these are my two controversial choices. Before the Broncos joined the ARL in 1988, QLD based players had to head south if they wanted to play in the premier competition, and clubs like Canberra where one of the great beneficiaries of this player migration. Their team in 1986 included QLD greats in Mal Meninga, Gary Belcher, Kevin Walters and his brother Steve. Canberra built a strong team based on their QLD imports, were runners up to Manly in 1987, and two years later they defeated Balmain 19-14 with Walters playing off the bench. That was Walters’ last game for the Raiders as he joined Brisbane in 1990, where he went on to form one of the best half combinations ever with Allan Langer winning premierships in 1992, 1993, 1998, 2000 and the Super League Premiership in 1997.
Joining Kevvie in the halves is that wonderful little half back from the seventies in Johnny Mayes. Mayes was struggling for opportunities at Eastern Suburbs when he jumped ship to join Manly in 1973 and had immediate success, scored 16 tries, and partnered Ian Martin in the halves as Manly defeated Cronulla in one of the most violent grand-finals of all time. Manly and Eastern Suburbs then swapped halves, with Kevin Junee joining Manly in what can only be described as a poor career decision, as the Roosters, with Mayes wearing the number seven, won back to back premierships in 1974 and 1975.
Other halves who could have made the team were Luke Keary, with premierships for Souths (2014) and the Roosters (2018 and 2019), Jonathan Thurston (Bulldogs 2004 and Cowboys 2015), James Maloney (Roosters 2013 and Sharks 2016), and Cooper Cronk (Melbourne 2012 and 2017, and Roosters 2018 and 2019).
Lock – Ron Coote.
Put simply, Coote was one of the best players to ever lace on a boot and he was a key factor in South Sydney’s rise to prominence in the 1970’s. He played in four premiership winning teams for the Rabbitohs, 1967, 1968, 1970 and 1971. It was no surprise that arch rivals Eastern Suburbs recruited Coote in 1972, and their investment soon paid off, as he was a key part of their successful premiership campaigns in both 1974 and 1975.
Another contender for the number 8 jersey was the diminutive powerhouse Kevin Stevens who was one of Coote’s team mates in the Roosters 1975 premiership win, before he won another title with the Eels in 1981.
Second Rowers – Harry Bath and David Gillespie.
Harry Bath was a legend of the game and success seemed to follow him everywhere he went, either as a player or a coach. He won back to back premierships with Balmain in 1946 and 1947 before spending the next decade in England and then returned to Australia to join St George in 1957 at the age of 33, had just three years with the club, winning a premiership in each year.
Five seasons in the Sydney competition and five premierships!
If you believe in the adage that forwards win matches, and in particular, grand-finals, then David Gillespie is a player you want in your team. He was one of the toughest and most uncompromising players of all time, and took no prisoners. His first premiership came with Canterbury as a 21 year old in 1985 and his second for the Dogs came three years later. After a stint with Western Suburbs he Joined Manly in 1994 where he transitioned to the front row and formed one of the most feared front row combinations in the competition alongside Mark Carroll. He won his third premiership in 1996 when Manly proved too strong for the Dragons.
Other contenders for second row were Sonny Bill Williams, who won premierships with both Canterbury (2004) and the Sydney Roosters (2013) and big Joe Guluvao, who won premierships with Penrith (2003) and Manly (2011).
Front Rowers – Glen Lazarus and John O’Neill.
Glen Lazarus is the king of the multi-premiership winners, having won premierships with three clubs. The first of these came when the big front rower helped Canberra to their first premiership in 1989, and then to prove it was no fluke the Raiders went back to back the following year. He then headed to warmer climes in 1992 to join the Broncos, and replicated his Canberra double by being a part of the Broncos first two premiership victories in 1992 and 1993. He joined Melbourne in 1998 and captained them to their first title in 1999. Surely no other player will have the honour of being a member of the first premiership winning team for three separate clubs.
John O’Neill was one of the games most noted hard men, and the type of player upon which premierships success was built. Playing in the forwards wasn’t for the faint-hearted when O’Neill walked the earth, and you needed forwards who could dominate the opposition if you wanted to have any hope of winning a grand-final. Enter John O’Neill. He played in every grand final between 1967 and 1973 and came away with six premierships from seven starts. His first four titles came with South Sydney in 1967, 1968, 1970 and 1971, and he was then head-hunted by Manly in 1972, becoming an integral part of the Sea Eagle’s first two premierships in 1972 and 1973.
Matt Prior was another multi-club premiership winner familiar with the front row, and he filled in anywhere in the forwards when required and even played at centre on many occasions. He was part of the Dragons victory in 2010 and backed up for his second premiership with the Sharks in 2016.
Hooker – Steve Edge.
Steve Edge was a quality hooker back when they had more to do than just pass the ball from dummy half, and he’s the only player to captain multiple clubs to multiple premierships. He lead the young St George team to victory in both 1977 and 1979 and then made the move to Parramatta, where he lead their all-star team to victory to take out the club’s first three premierships in 1981, 1982 and 1983. His last game for the Eels was in 1984 when they went down by just two points to Canterbury in the premiership decider.
Another hooker with the right credentials for this team was Apisai Koroisau who won premierships with South Sydney (2014) and Penrith (2021).
Bench – There’s plenty of versatility and impact on the bench, with Luke Priddis (Broncos 2000 and Penrith 2003), Luke Lewis (Penrith 2003 and Cronulla 2016), Ben Hannant (Broncos 2006 and North QLD 2015) and Peter Provan (St George 1958 and 1959, and Balmain 1969).