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The best rugby league players who never played representative football

In previous articles in this series, I put together a team for each NRL club made up solely of players since 1980 who never went beyond club level. In this final article, I will select a team of the best players across the whole series. I will also have a stab at deciding which club produced the strongest set of non-representative players.

The best non-representative players.

In researching this article I realised a horrible truth. Across 19 teams and 319 players … THEY ARE ALL THE SAME! Basically 70% of the players I have to choose from are cut from the same cloth: solid long term first graders who were nearly but not quite good enough to pick up a representative jersey. As a result any team I choose here will have a healthy dose of guesswork and you could name three or four players for each position and not be wrong. So, on a hiding to nothing, here goes.

(see the previous articles in this series for a short biography of each player)


FULLBACK: Paul Taylor (Parramatta). 2nd Andrew Leeds (Wests), 3rd Rod Silva). Honourable mentions: William Zillman (Gold Coast), Luke Phillips (Roosters) and Mark Levy (Penrith).

WINGS: Ashley Graham (Nth QLD) and Tom Mooney (Manly). 2nd Steve Gearin (Canterbury) and Graeme Atkins (Parramatta). 3rd John Davidson (Wests) and Paul Mellor (Souths). Honourable mentions: Jack Elsegood (Roosters), Nigel Roy (Norths) and Rick Bourke (Cronulla).

CENTRES: Col Bentley (Penrith) and Michael Beattie (St George). 2nd Chris Gardner (Cronulla) and Aaron Moule (Melbourne). 3rd Ivan Cleary (Roosters) and Chris Caruana (Norths). Honourable mentions: Mark Hughes (Canterbury), Wayne Smith (Wests) and John Adam (Norths).

FIVE EIGHTH: Mitch Healey (Cronulla). 2nd Blake Green (Warriors), 3rd Garry Hughes (Canterbury). Honourable mentions: Jason Bell (Parramatta), Brendan Hall (Roosters) and Neil Baker (Souths).

Blake Green

Blake Green on the Warriors. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

HALFBACK: Michael Neill (Balmain). 2nd Craig Coleman (Souths), 3rd Barry Russell (Cronulla). Honourable mentions: Michael Monaghan (Manly), Ken Wilson (Newtown) and Laurie Spina (Roosters).

LOCK: Bill Peden (Newcastle). 2nd Michael Luck (Warriors), 3rd Graeme O’Grady (Wests/Newtown). Honourable mentions: Jeff Hardy (St George), Tod Lowrie (Melbourne) and Luke Williamson (Manly).

SECOND ROW: Neil Piccinelli (Illawarra) and Steve Sharp (Parramatta). 2nd Paul Marquet (Newcastle) and Glenn Hall (Nth Qld). 3rd Tony Grimaldi (Canterbury) and Kevin Hardwick (Balmain). Honourable mentions: Mark O’Neill (Wests), Michael Hodgson (Canberra) and Steve Southern (Nth Qld).

FRONT ROW: Scott Bolton (Nth Qld) and Todd Payten (Wests). 2nd Brian Norrie (Melbourne) and Luke Davico (Canberra). 3rd Barry Walker (Penrith) and Geoff Robinson (Canterbury). Honourable mentions: Dane Tilse (Canberra), Carl MacNamara (Penrith) and Dave Tyrell (Souths).

HOOKER: Nathan Brown (St George). 2nd Matt Hilder (Newcastle), 3rd Dean Treister (Cronulla). Honourable mentions: Tony Rea (Norths), Ken Stewart (Souths), Mark Bugden (Canterbury).

BENCH (these players were on the bench for their respective teams): John Plath (Brisbane), Michael Speechley (Cronulla), Dean Schifilliti (Illawarra) and Nicho Hynes (Melbourne).

Cowboys coach Todd Payten looks on

(Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

This is a pretty fair team, although more solid than full of strike power.

Team of the series

In picking a team of the series, I have encountered exactly the same problem. Similar teams, similar players. However I have managed to come up with a clear winner and a few tiers that sides slotted into. The sides have been assessed as follows: for each starting position every team’s player was assessed against the others and put into one of six categories:

– Ranked number 1 = 1 point, number 2 = 2 points, number 3 = 3 points.
– Played over 100 first grade games or otherwise close to Top 3 = 4 points.
– Played 50-100 games = 5 points, 30-50 games = 6 points, under 30 games = 7 points.

A bench bonus worth up to three points off and a spine bonus based on the number of players in the upper tiers above were also calculated. This produced an overall team score, with the lowest being best.

(See my previous articles for each of the individual teams selected)


In doing that assessment it became obvious that the teams are mostly quite similar but fall into some pretty obvious tiers. And here they are:

TIER 1 (34-37 points): Wests Tigers by a clear 4 points from the Cronulla Sharks. No ninth place here!

Every single player in the Wests Tigers team played over 100 first grade games. In addition they had top three players for their position in Andrew Leeds, John Davidson, Michael Neill (the number 1 halfback), Kevin Hardwick and Todd Payten (number 1 prop forward).
The Wests’ spine was very good: Andrew Leeds, Gary Bridge, Michael Neil and Neil Whittaker) Only Cronulla had a better spine (Mick Mullane, Mitch Healey, Barry Russell and Dean Treister) with Canterbury up there as well (Rod Silva, Garry Hughes, Daniel Holdsworth and Mark Bugden).

(Photo by Adam Pretty/Getty Images)

Wests also received maximum bench points for Scott Gale, Steve Edmed, Blake Ayshford and Greg Cox. This was only matched by Cronulla (with Michael Speechley and Jeff Robson), Brisbane (due to John Plath) and Melbourne (Nicho Hynes).

TIER 2 (41 to 48 points): Parramatta Eels, Canterbury Bulldogs, St George-Illawarra Dragons, Penrith Panthers, South Sydney Rabbitohs, North Sydney Bears.

TIER 3 (50 to 51 points): North Queensland Cowboys, Newcastle Knights, Canberra Raiders, Manly Sea Eagles, Sydney Roosters

TIER 4: (57 to 62 points) Gold Coast Titans (et al), Brisbane Broncos, Melbourne Storm, Newtown Jets, New Zealand Warriors.

TIER 5 (71 points): The Super League casualty composite side.

This is the final article in this series of 20 (phew!). It was fun remembering forgotten players and researching others I never knew. For every superstar there are the unsung heroes making the hard yards, plugging gaps, bludging on the blind side and not taking up too much salary cap. The game is richer for them.

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