I don’t know if you’ve had a chance to catch up with the Super League grand final played recently, but if you did, not only will you have seen a very good contest, in which the Wigan Warriors defeated the Catalans Dragons by 10 points to 2 in front of 58,000 fans, but you will also have noticed many familiar names appearing in the two teams.
Many NRL players head north these days, either to extend their time in the game as retirement approaches or to kick-start their careers if they don’t meet early success in the NRL.
Of the 34 players who took the field in the grand final, 13 spent some time in the NRL, and there were many very good players amongst them, some of whom may find their way back to the NRL at some stage in the future.
Here’s a handy side made up of the 13 former NRL players:
1. Jai Field (Wigan) – The “original” Forbes Ferrari, Jai Field is blessed with lightning acceleration that can leave any defender grasping in his wake. After unsuccessful stints with both the Dragons and the Eels where coaches had no idea how to use him, he’s now found a home at Wigan and has made the No.1 jersey his own, crossing for 43 tries in 59 games for the Warriors, and he was named in the 2022 ESL Dream Team.
2. Abbas Miski (Wigan) – If you’re missing watching winger Josh Mansour run around then start following Wigan, as Miski is his doppelganger. Miski began his career with Manly back in 2019 and has been in great form since heading to the UK in 2021. He has now not only notched up 13 appearances for Lebanon but also ran in 57 tries in his 58 games in England. Maybe Mansour should head to England?
3. Willie Isa (Wigan) – Isa failed to gain any traction with either Penrith or Melbourne between 2008 and 2010 but hasn’t looked back since heading to England 13 years ago and has now played nearly 300 top-grade games in the ESL, firstly with Castleford and Widnes, and the last eight years with Wigan, where he’s now won two premierships.
4. Tyrone May (Catalans) – Now let’s be frank – Tyrone is not everyone’s cup of tea. He virtually threw his NRL career away with some dumb and distasteful off-field behaviour while he was at the Panthers, and probably missed out on a couple more premiership rings as well, but at least he’s stayed out of trouble the past two years with Catalans. He’s off the Hull KR next year.
5. Matt Ikuvalu (Catalans) – Matt Ikuvalu has often been on the verge of establishing himself as a genuine first-grader in the NRL, but it just never happened for him. Who can forget that day back in 2020 when he ran in five tries for the Roosters against the Cowboys only to find himself out of first grade some weeks later. A mid-season switch this year saw Ikuvalu head from Cronulla to the south of France and he’s barely missed a game for Catalans since.
6. Bevan French (Wigan) – Remember that diminutive speedster who looked like the next big thing at Parramatta in 2016? Well, it’s history now since Bevan French was shelved by Eels coach Brad Arthur in 2019 and headed to England to seek fame and fortune. He’s now played 90 games for the cherry and whites and crossed for 76 tries, including a seven-try effort against Hull FC last year. Seven tries for God’s sake! He’s also won a Challenge Cup Final, a Super League Premiership, been named in the Super League Dream Team three times and in three different positions, and picked up this year’s Man of Steel Award. Not bad for a young fellow from Tingha. I always said that Brad Arthur was a genius.
7. Mitchell Pearce (Catalans) – Mitchell Pearce probably thought he was taking an extended well-paid relaxing holiday when he swapped the high pressure of the Newcastle Knights for the south of France, but that didn’t stop him from taking his team to the finals in both 2022 and 2023 as his swansong. We won’t mention other animals.
8. Kaide Ellis (Wigan) – Ellis is a big unit but he failed to make a big impression with either the Panthers or the Dragons in his four seasons in the NRL, primarily playing off the bench. He was also probably too big to hide under Paul Vaughan’s bed when the police turned up to ‘that’ BBQ, so he headed to the UK where he’s established himself in the Wigan team and now has won both a Challenge Cup and an ESL premiership.
9. Adam Keighran (Catalans) – Keighran always struck me as a far better player than a mere 26 NRL games in four seasons would suggest and he’s certainly found his feet in the ESL, scoring 200 points in his first season with Catalans. In a classic case of ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’ Keighran will be playing for ESL champions Wigan next year.
10. Sio Siua Taukeiaho (Catalans) – Once rated as one of the best middle forwards in the game, the big Tongan hasn’t done his career too many favours during his one season with Catalans, where he’s certainly come back to the field. It will be interesting to see whether he can recapture his best form when he returns to the NRL next year, presumably with the Bulldogs.
11. Patrick Mago (Wigan) – Mago is another big bopper who failed to make his mark in the NRL to now find success in the ESL. He’s now played 58 games in the top grade for Wigan which eclipses the 37 games across five seasons in Australia, and he has even managed to score a couple of tries.
12. Manu Ma’u (Catalans) – They don’t come any tougher than Ma’u, who went from imprisoned gang member to test jumpers for both NZ and Tonga plus 115 games across six seasons with the Eels. At 35 years of age, he shows no signs of hanging up his boots anytime soon, and there’s probably no one else game enough to suggest it.
13. Ben Garcia (Catalans) – The astute among you will recognise Garcia as somewhat of a fudge in this team, as although he signed for the Panthers in 2016, he was never selected in first grade and headed home to Catalans in June that year. A very versatile player, Garcia has played 219 games for Catalans and represented France in three World Cups, and has had the honour of captaining both his club and country on many occasions.
How many games does this XIII win in an NRL season?