Winning a premiership is the ultimate prize in rugby league. Unfortunately, not all players end up winning one and capturing the elusive prize. Some players are just unlucky not to have won one, whilst others potentially lacked the support from a team throughout their career to do so.
Many players were superbly talented in their own right and yet, that elusive premiership they so desperately sought somehow eluded them. This article is one that will celebrate that team for the individuals that they were and showcase how talented they were as players, even if they did not win a premiership.
Note, all the players in this list are now retired from professional rugby league.
So, without further adieu, here is the list:
1. Garry Jack – One of the greatest players to don the colours of the Balmain Tigers, there was very little that Garry Jack failed to achieve in rugby league. He played in a grand final, was one of the best players of his time during his time in the ARL and played for NSW and Australia. Eluding him, though, was the premiership. Regarded as one of the best fullbacks to have ever played the game, it was his defence that often caught headlines – many wondering just how he managed to pull off such brilliant tackles. Television commentator Rex Mossop gave Jack a glowing praise on his defence, labelling the fullback as “one of the smartest defensive fullbacks around.” His work-rate from the back was phenomenal and he set the tone for the modern day fullbacks running around. A player of his quality was perhaps unlucky to not win a premiership at some point in his ARL career but he achieved many great things in rugby league and can be proud of the career he had as a player at club level, state level and at the international level.
2. Nathan Blacklock – The man from Tingha – aptly nicknamed that as well – was an electrifying winger for the St George Dragons and the St George Illawarra Dragons throughout his career. Possessing an uncanny knack to score tries on a regular basis, he seemed to get on the scoreboard for fun for years on end. Such was his prolific try-scoring ability, that he topped the try-scorers list from 1999 to 2011 (three straight seasons), the first player to do so since the 1920’s. Blessed with the smarts to adapt in the game of rugby league and a knack for scoring tries, it was his pace and quick feet that often left defenders dazed and confused. Despite all that, he played less representative footy then he may have liked and less representative footy than the fans may have liked. Often considered unlucky not to make the NSW or Australian sides at different points throughout his career, this is allegedly what led to his defection to rugby union for a period of time. Across his entire rugby league career, Blacklock played in 189 games and scored 154 tries – a truly remarkable feat.
3. Andrew Ettinghausen – One of the greatest players to have donned a Cronulla Sharks jersey, Andrew ‘ET’ Ettinghausen is a name forever etched in Sharks folklore. His ability as an all-round player and the ability to adapt to the situations at hand with sheer ease, are what made him the phenomenal player he was regarded as. Playing for NSW and Australia was no problem for ET throughout his career but despite his best efforts throughout his career, it was a premiership that eluded him. And for a player of his quality, ability and for the way he often led from the front for the Sharks side during his time there, he deserved one. He only ever played for the Sharks, amassing a whopping 328 games for the club over an 18-year span since making his debut as an 18-year old in 1983. Such was the ability of Ettinghausen that even at a young age, he quickly cemented a spot in the Sharks side and relinquished it infrequently. ET was an all-round player and knew how to play the game. He was deceptively quick, had brilliant hands and ball control and most notably, was as sturdy as a rock in defence. It was those attributes that shaped him into the legend that he was and still is within the Sharks organisation.
4. Steve Rogers – His career will always be remembered as an iconic one among the Sharks organisation, even after his tragic death in 2006. Playing the majority of his career at the Sharks, such was Rogers’ presence throughout his career that he was eventually named as one of the five immortals of the Cronulla club. He was also the CEO of the Sharks during the time of his unfortunate death, one that rocked the club to its core and had many in grief over the death of a club legend. On the field, his efforts were often monumental and he was the driving force behind one of the clubs most successful periods in his early days at the Sharks. He also represented NSW and Australia on a regular basis and accumulated numerous accolades throughout his career, including Dally M Lock of the Year and the Rothmans Medal in 1975. His talents were seen by many across the Australian rugby league community and in 1973, the Sharks captain/coach at the time, one Tommy Bishop said that Rogers was a “rare, rare talent – the greatest all-round centre three quarter I’ve ever seen.” That sort of praise was common for Rogers throughout his career, even after he made the move to lock. Despite the fact that he is no longer with us, his memory and legacy will forever remain within the hearts of rugby league fans.
5. Kerry Boustead – One of the best wingers of his era, Boustead possessed speed, class, finesse and a knack for scoring and finishing tries. Playing at state level and international level, Boustead’s talents were on show to the masses and he rarely disappointed. Such was his ability that at the time of his selection for Australia, he was the youngest player to be picked. One of the greatest players of the 20th century, his versatility and talents entertained fans throughout his career and his efforts, commitment and ability will never be forgotten by those who had the privilege of watching him play in their life-time.
6. Trent Barrett – A fan favourite of many a Dragons and Steelers fans throughout his career, there are some players blessed with natural ability and Trent Barrett was one of those. 1995 is when Barrett was noticed after impressing for the Australian Schoolboys and 1996 is when opportunity came, playing for the now defunct-NRL side, the Illawarra Steelers. Potential and ability were never in doubt for Barrett, who toiled and persisted as a player regardless of his age and often proved the catalyst for the Dragons/Steelers sides throughout his career. In his last year with the Steelers, he scored a whopping 18 tries – impressive for a half – and won the BHP Medal as a result. He also won a Dally M Award in 2000 and a Super League Player of the Year award in 2007. Representing both NSW and Australia on a regular basis throughout his career, his talents were always on show and in 1999 especially, he came so close to winning a title with the Dragons. It just was not to be.
7. Stacey Jones – There is no question that Stacey Jones is one of the finest players New Zealand has ever produced since their involvement with rugby league. Aptly nicknamed “the little general” for his ability to control and dominate a game with the ball on a string, he was the focal point of the Warriors attack for many years. His vision, natural ability, teamwork and general attitude, were the reasons why he was revered across New Zealand. Jones won numerous accolades in New Zealand for his skills in rugby league and 2005 is the year that he almost managed to guide the Warriors to a grand final. Former NZ Prime Minister Helen Clark said, “He’s the epitome of a New Zealand champion.” Many fans also felt that way and hinged on every moment Jones created. If the fans had it their way, their little general would have won a premiership.
8. Paul Sironen – Losing one grand final is tough on a player but to lose two successive grand finals would be heartbreak, as Sironen and his Balmain team-mates – some on this very list – found out. A hulking, determined and committed back-rower, it was all about Balmain for Sironen who became the heart and soul of the club. A leader of the pack, a leader of men and a role model for younger players coming through the grades, Sironen was the sort of player every team was after for their back-row. His playing career was a joy for many and with representative games for both NSW and Australia throughout his career, it ended with Sironen being named in the Wests Tigers Team of the Century and the Balmain Team of the Century. His workhorse-like efforts, his dedication and commitment and his tenacity should have seen him win a grand final but unfortunately, it was not to be.
9. Benny Elias – One of the best rugby league players that Lebanon has ever produced, Benny Elias was the embodiment of a player who put everything on the line, put his body on the line and gave it his all in every game. A tenacious, dogged player, Elias formed a part of what was one of the best Balmain Tigers sides the game has ever seen, even if somehow, they could not achieve the ultimate goal and win a premiership. Elias’ skill was on show from an early age, as he made the Australian Schoolboys side for three straight years before making his debut for Balmain in 1982 and staying there until 1994. He formed a nucleus for all the sides he played on and it was his toughness that saw him procure many fans over the years at club level, state level and international level. A dynamic player and not too dissimilar to some modern day hookers, he set the tone for the little man to play the role of hooker, something that many clubs employ today.
10. Nathan Cayless – A tireless, hard-working, no-nonsense prop, Nathan Cayless was a part of the Parramatta Eels forward pack for what seemed like an age. The determined Kiwi prop carved out a successful career on the back of his stellar go-forward and forward play, often setting the tone for the Eels attack on a regular basis. To this day, Cayless, despite his retirement, remains one of the most capped players for New Zealand and still holds the record for the most games played as a captain in the NRL. Regarded as a leader of men, where he went, his team-mates often followed. He laid the foundation even when the odds were stacked against him and somehow, he managed to galvanise his team-mates and get them to make the same impact. With a remarkable 217 games played as captain, Cayless was thrust into the role at a very young age and embraced it, took it all on board and justified the decision to make him the leader in every sense.
11. Nathan Hindmarsh – Without any question, Nathan Hindmarsh is one of the greatest Eels players to have ever played the game. No matter who you supported or how interested in rugby league you were, Hindmarsh was a player that was revered on a wholesale level by fans, staff, coaches and teams across the NRL. A selfless player, Hindmarsh went about his work and business with aplomb and was forced to endure some dour years as an Eels player, even if he was one of the best over the course of those seasons. Known as a defensive juggernaut, remarkably, Hindmarsh is believed to have been the first player to surpass 10,000 tackles, 11,000 tackles and 12,000 tackles, throughout his career. Achieving everything in the game from representing NSW and Australia, winning the Dally M Back-Rower of the Year four times, the Provan Summons Medal five times and captaining the Prime Minister’s XIII side twice – the only player to do so – Hindmarsh embodied the spirit of the game. Playing in 330 games across his career, the longevity of Hindmarsh’s career meant that the diehard Eels fans had a chance to farewell their hero and club legend properly. Which they did.
12. Gary Larson – Nicknamed ‘Sven Svensson’ due to his Nordic-like appearance, Larson was a hard-hitter, a power-runner and a bullocking forward that gave the North Sydney Bears years of loyal service and a quality player to boot. It was in 1989 that his career at the Bears really started to take off and immediately, he became known for his work-rate and defensive prowess as a player. As a result, he instantly became ‘Mr Reliable’ as he would always get stuck in and do the dirty work that was required to win games. As a part of the Bears juggernaut in the mid 90’s, on three occasions (in 1994, 1996 and 1997), they came so close to making the grand final but fell at the final hurdle in the preliminary. A swansong season with the Parramatta Eels finished Larson’s career but he will be remembered for his efforts at the Bears, culminating in Larson being named in the Bears Team of the Century. On the representative front, Larson played for QLD and Australia on numerous occasions.
13. Wayne Pearce – He may have only played at the top level for 10 years, fewer years than some other players, but if you think the impact of Pearce was lessened as a result? Think again. Pearce himself would admit that when it came to natural ability, he did not possess that innate, God-given ability to play league but he did not need it. What he lacked in that regard, he developed in sheer athleticism, commitment and a staying power that embodied the type of player he became. Regarded as the player that revolutionised the rugby league world in terms of fitness, exercise and match preparation, Pearce’s commitment was second to none and cannot be faulted. Nicknamed ‘Junior’, it surprised many that a player of his size, was able to play back-row and lock and do so at such a consistent level. It was a testament to Pearce and how he played, that he was able to use athleticism rather than power, to play a position traditionally allocated to bigger players.
14. Steve Roach – One of the big boppers of that famous Balmain side in the late 80’s and early 90’s, the nickname ‘Blocker’ is one that has stuck with Roach over the years. As a player, that was exactly how he played. He was a man mountain in the front-row. Hard to tackle, hard to contain and always causing problems for the opposition. He too possessed sheer tenacity and adopted a win at all costs mentality and for parts of his career, such a process worked. He was at the top of his game for large portions of his career and as a result, he was rewarded with opportunities to represent both NSW and the Australian Kangaroos on numerous occasions. For his services to rugby league, he was named as one of the greatest 100 players ever.
15. Greg Florimo – Tireless, selfless, determined and committed. Words such as those describe the efforts of Greg Florimo as a player, as he toiled and worked his backside off for the North Sydney club that he has had such a strong affiliation with for the better part of three decades now. A centre by trade, Florimo eventually moved into the halves as a 5/8 and was the lynchpin for the Bears over the years, as they came close a few times to potential glory but fell just short. Playing alongside brother-in-law Gary Larson during his time at the Bears, Florimo was an exciting player to watch and often produced stellar performances. One such performance saw him given a rating of 10/10 by Rugby League Week, only the second player to achieve a perfect score. To further highlight his impact on the Bears and how talented he was, Florimo was named at centre in the North Sydney Bears Team of the Century. Even fans in England had a chance to see him in action, after stints with the Wigan Warriors and Halifax. On top of all that, he also had the opportunity to represent both NSW and Australia, the icing on the cake.
16. Tim Brasher – Primarily a fullback during his rugby league career, even some of the younger fans will remember the talents of Tim Brasher. A part of that Balmain Tigers side and subsequent ones that followed, a constant in those sides for the Tigers was Brasher. An enigmatic, zippy fullback, Brasher was a key player in attack for many years and that transcended to the Origin and international arenas. Whilst he finished up his career as a North Queensland Cowboys player – he also had a stint at the South Sydney Rabbitohs – it is his time at the Balmain Tigers that many remember him for. Named in the Balmain Tigers team of the century and deservedly so, Brasher’s fluidity as a fullback and his direct play, allowed him to open up the ground and dictate the terms of play from the back. Whilst he was not necessarily crafty, he had plenty of assets to make up for it and forged a solid, successful career as a fullback and as a player.
17. Les Boyd – Regarded as one of the toughest players to play the game, you always knew what you were going to get with Les Boyd. Hard-nosed, a hard-hitter and a no-nonsense approach to rugby league was the only way that Boyd knew how to play the game and as a result, he was involved in his fair share of biffs, controversies and issues. Forging out a career with three clubs over a 13-year span, his days at the Western Suburbs Magpies and the Manly Sea Eagles were the most memorable. As tough as he was, his on-field indiscretions got him into trouble and ultimately, spelled the end of his rugby league career in Australia. The two most infamous incidents were the elbow on QLD’s Darryl Brohman during State of Origin and the eye-gouging of Billy Johnstone, which proved to be the final straw. That all aside, Boyd played with a voracity and tenacity that saw him forge a reputation in the league as a brute-type forward. He would hit hard – both in attack and defence – and play hard, using his big frame to bully the opponents when given a chance. His efforts across his career, whilst controversial, play a big part in building his memory as a rugby league player.
Coach: Brian Smith