Time for part 3 in our editorials of the greatest teams ever and we cast our eye over the Canterbury Bulldogs. Blessed with numerous premierships over a number of decades, the Bulldogs have always produced quality players that have made a big impact on the field. Just who will make our best ever side, well, you will just have to read on and find out.
Let us preface this editorial and all others that the selected players are those that have played almost exclusively for the Bulldogs. Whilst there may be other great players that had stints at the Bulldogs throughout their history, the 17 players selected are those that have played the majority of their games for the Bulldogs.
We are not intending to keep you waiting much longer, so here it is; our greatest ever Bulldogs side:
1. Les Johns – Playing just 103 games over 8 years with the Bulldogs, the impact and effect that Johns had on the club and its players cannot be understated. A talented fullback, Johns was a tremendously adept goal-kicker and slotted 233 goals in his career as well as 19 field goals.
Regarded as one of the nation’s finest footballers of the 20th century, Johns blond hair made him stand out as did his craft and flair on the field. A sound attacker, he was also remarkably solid in defence for a smaller player at fullback and he was often lauded for his defensive exploits as much as his attacking exploits.
Unfortunately, injuries were a constant threat throughout Johns’ career and it eventually resulted in his retirement in 1971. In the end, chronic knee injuries became so bad that he could not continue playing.
2. Chris Anderson – Enjoying a stellar 15-year career with the Bulldogs as a player, Anderson was best known for his brilliant knack of finishing off attacking moves by either scoring them himself or setting them up for his team-mates from the wing. The Condoblin-born Anderson gave the Bulldogs team at the time a much needed presence on the wing and a genuine try-scorer.
He made his debut in 1971 and became a consistent try-scorer, culminating in breaking Morrie Murphy’s record 1947 record of 16 tries in 1974. He had a brief mid-season stint with English side Widnes before returning to the Bulldogs side and continuing to perform and impress both the club and its fans.
In 1978, Anderson broke the then club record of 65 tries achieved by Eddie Burns, going on to score 94 tries in his Bulldogs career. As for representative honours, Anderson played in 12 games for the Australian national side and four for NSW.
Anderson also became the first ever player to score a hat-trick during an Origin game and set a new Bulldogs record of 19 tries in a season, a record at the time; Nigel Vagana has since broken this record.
As the 1984 season came around, Anderson was slowing down and after struggling with a broken arm throughout the year and dropped to reserve grade towards the back end of the season, he moved to England to become captain-coach of Halifax.
He would return to the Bulldogs, though, coming back as coach for the 1990 season. Enjoying eight seasons at the club that he called home as a player, he guided them to premiership success in the 1995 NSWRL competition. Prior to that, he also coached the Bulldogs U21’s side.
3. Daryl Halligan – Arguably the greatest goal-kicker that rugby league has ever seen, Halligan changed the way goals were taken in numerous ways. The Kiwi-born Halligan started his career with the North Sydney Bears but it was at the Canterbury Bulldogs that put him on the map. Joining the Bulldogs in 1994, Halligan tasted premiership soon after, with the Bulldogs winning the 1995 NSWRL premiership. Throughout his career with both the Bears and the Bulldogs, Halligan was an adept goal-kicker kicking 855 goals at a remarkable accuracy of 80%. In order to achieve his accuracy with goal-kicking, rather than use the older, more traditional style of placing the ball on a mound of sand, he used a plastic tee which allowed him to be as accurate as he was.
During Halligan’s final year in the NRL in 2000, he became the first player to score 2000 points in the NRL and overtaking the previous record held at the time by Mick Cronin. Whilst his record was eventually beaten just a year later, Halligan set the benchmark for scoring a high number of points throughout his career.
4. Andrew Farrar – Signed by Peter Moore at just 17 years old, Farrar went on to become a key player during the 80’s for the Bulldogs and played in their successive premiership victories in 1984 and 1985. The Cowra junior settled into the side and the NRL playing centre or five-eighth, establishing himself as a nifty player who could produce good form.
Perhaps the moment that many Bulldogs fans remember was when Farrar kicked the winning field goal in the Bulldogs 1985 triumph. Farrar represented NSW on numerous occasions but did have to wait 1988 to make an Australian appearance. With the Bulldogs wanting to keep Farrar beyond the 1990 season, he surprised everyone by suddenly leaving the club to join former coach Warren Ryan at Wests. He then had a stint in England with Wigan before returning for one year with Illawarra under Graham Murray.
5. Hazem El Masri – El Masri has had a long association with the Canterbury Bulldogs that started in 1994 after he was spotted at Belmore Boys High School. He was invited for Jersey Flegg trials that year before he made the President’s Cup side the following year.
He then debuted during the 1996 ARL season and whilst he is known for his goal-kicking, he was not the designated kicker when he came into the side as that role belonged to Daryl Halligan. In fact, his first kick at goal did not come until 1997 when Halligan was injured. By the time 1998 rolled around, El-Masri was a regular in the Bulldogs side but surprisingly, he did not play in the club’s 1998 premiership success.
A proud Lebanese player, El-Masri had the chance to play for his home nation for the first time in 1999 and scored 48 points – an international record – in the Mediterranen Cup match against Morocco. He was again involved with the Lebanese side during the 2000 World Cup and was captain, as he played in all three group games. He had the honour of playing alongside his brother Samer El Masri whilst representing Lebanon.
With several offers on the table in 2002, El-Masri ignored those overtures and remained with the Bulldogs, in the same year that he broke the Bulldogs record for the most goals kicked in a game with eleven. Just a couple of years later, El Masri broke an NRL record with the most points scored in a single season (16 tries and 139 goals). The 2004 season was a successful one for both El-Masri and the Bulldogs, with Hazem playing on the wing in their premiership success. He was also a strong performer in their World Club Challenge loss to Leeds.
2005 saw another record broken as El Masri became the Bulldogs highest ever point-scorer. The records continued to tumble in 2006 as well, when he scored the most points by a Bulldogs player in one game (34 points v the Wests Tigers) and the most tries for the Bulldogs with 123. In 2007, he became just the sixth player to pass the 1,900 points mark and in the same year, he made his maiden Origin appearance for New South Wales. He would play just the one game for NSW and the one game for Australia.
2009 was another special year for El-Masri as he broke the NRL point-scoring record giving him 2,208 points. El-Masri also played in his 300th game in 2009, the first Bulldogs player to reach the milestone (note that Terry Lamb did also play 300+ games but he played 88 games for Western Suburbs, whereas El-Masri played all his games for the Bulldogs).
Also in 2009, El-Masri announced that 2009 would be his last season with his 317th and final game coming in the preliminary final against the Parramatta Eels. El-Masri, a loyal player to the Bulldogs and a winger with a lion’s heart, will likely remain one of the greatest ever goal-kickers the modern game has ever seen and it is quite possible that his point-scoring feats and Bulldogs records may never be broken.
6. Terry Lamb – Regarded as one of the Bulldogs greatest ever players, the man nicknamed ‘Baa’ joined the Bulldogs in 1984 having previously played for Western Suburbs. Under coach Warren Ryan and captain Steve Mortimer, Lamb settled in well to the Bulldogs side as he slotted into the pivot role. His support play was a highly regarded part of his game and it was evident, as he ended up with 17 tries to be the joint leading try-scorer in 1984. In his first year with the club, he enjoyed premiership success as the Bulldogs defeated the Parramatta Eels in a hard-fought 6-4 win. Lamb left the field with five minutes to go due to a gash above his eye.
Whilst Lamb played in 22 games during the 1985 season, he was forced to miss the Bulldogs second premiership in successive years due to a groin injury. 1986 was a better year for Lamb as he was moved to halfback with Mortimer suspended at the start of the season before being selected for both NSW and Australia that year. The Bulldogs failed to win three successive premierships, though, as they were beaten by arch rivals the Eels in the 1986 grand final.
Despite a solid person season for Lamb in 1987 where he scored 26 points in one game and finished the season as the leading try-scorer, the Bulldogs failed to make the finals and coach Warren Ryan departed. 1987 was perhaps the most contentious of Lamb’s career with the infamous Ellery Hanley incident that many believe decided the grand final in the favour of the Bulldogs. Despite that, the club went on to win yet another premiership.
The next couple of years were not Lamb’s best as the season was marred by both injury dramas and off-field incidents. In the end, this resulted in another changing of the guard with Phil Gould out as coach and Chris Anderson in.
Lamb was made captain soon after Anderson was named coach and despite a good start to the 1990 season for the club, they eventually faltered and failed to regain a top five spot. As Lamb’s body continued to take the hits, he started to spend less time on the field, plagued by a chronic groin injury. Lamb won three consecutive Dally M Five-Eighth of the Year awards in 1991, 1992 and 1993. Lamb would go on to play his 300th game during the 1994 season and enjoyed a final premiership success in 1995, steering the Bulldogs to victory and picking up a man-of-the-match award as a result.
A final season in 1996 at the height of the Super League era saw Lamb eventually play a total of 349 games and scoring 164 tries, the fourth most tries scored by any player throughout their career.
7. Steve Mortimer – Playing in the Amco Cup on the Riverina in 1975, Mortimer actually played against the Bulldogs in that game and was the best player on ground. Winning four premierships with the club, two of which came as captain, his skills as a play-maker and a cover tackler made Bulldogs fans proud to have him at their club.
In 1980 in particular, he made three crucial cover tackles that coupled with his play-making exploits, contributed to his side winning the grand final. He formed a formidable halves pairing alongside Lamb during the 80’s and the two of them were key players in all four of the Bulldogs premiership victories during the 80’s.
One of the club’s greatest ever halves and players in general, Mortimer almost departed the club in the late 80’s but made the decision to stay and remained loyal to the Bulldogs throughout his career. Upon his retirement, he had played 272 games which at the time, was the most by a NSWRL player for the same club. During the late 70’s and throughout the 80’s, the logjam of halves should have made representative appearances difficult but Mortimer rode the wave out, playing a total of 16 games for NSW. He is credited as the man that brought back the passion to the NSW side during that era. He also played 8 games for Australia over a four-year period.
Playing under coach Warren Ryan in the mid-to-late 80’s, the two, at times, clashed but despite all of it, they won two premierships and finished runners-up in a third during Ryan’s four years as coach. In the end, the two had a professional relationship as captain and coach that guided the Bulldogs to the title on those three occasions.
Post-career, Mortimer was also involved with the Bulldogs as Chief Executive Officer after a tough time for the club when dealing with the 2002 salary cap crisis. He held the role for only a couple of years but he had laid the foundation for the club moving forward.
8. Eddie Burns – A member of the Bulldogs first ever season in 1935, Burns was just a teenager when he made his club debut. Interestingly, in his first game for the club, he was sent off and thus making it a memorable debut in the wrong way. He enjoyed a lengthy career spanning a remarkable 16 years and played in 147 NRL games total for the club. He was a member of the club’s two premiership victories in 1938 and 1942 and as a prop, had an uncanny knack of scoring tries.
At one point, he had scored the most tries for the club before that record was broken by Chris Anderson also in our team. Burns had two stints as Canterbury coach upon his retirement in 1960-1962 and again in 1965. In 1985, he was selected in the Bulldogs Greatest Team Ever and then in 2004, he was selected in the 70 Year Bulldogs team of champions.
9. Fred Anderson – Playing at a time when scrimmaging was a big part of rugby league, Fred Anderson enjoyed a successful career predominantly with the Bulldogs as he played a total of 197 games over twelve seasons. Regarded as one of the best hookers of his era, Anderson was a nippy player that helped the Bulldogs side to perform well.
During his Bulldogs career, he made two appearances for NSW and surprisingly, was asked by South Africa to make two appearances for them at an international level. That request by South Africa came during Anderson’s several year stint with the South Sydney Rabbitohs after he departed the Bulldogs side.
10. Darren Britt – An unsung hero of the Bulldogs side he played in, Darren Britt was a fan favourite due to his workhorse nature. A hard worker with immense heart, Britt eventually went on to play 168 games for the club after previously enjoying a stint with the Western Suburbs Magpies.
Playing mostly at prop, Britt captained the side for the first time in 1996 before becoming the full-time captain in 1998 until the 2001 season when he departed for a stint at English side, St Helens.
Eventually, he captained the side in 98 games, the second most behind Terry Lamb and he enjoyed some representative success, playing in 9 games for the Australian side and one game for the Country Origin team.
11. Steve Folkes – Back-row is usually a position for bigger bodies but telling that to Steve Folkes will do no good now, as the Bulldogs legend weighed just 85 kilograms for most of his rugby league career and yet still performed consistently in the back-row for the club.
A sturdy defender despite his size, Folkes was an adept runner of the ball and was able to hold his own against bigger opponents. Enjoying a lengthy career as a player with the club from 1978 to 1991, Folkes played in a total of six grand finals (1979, 1980, 1984, 1985, 1986 & 1988) winning on four occasions during that time. During that time, he also played in 9 games for New South Wales and 5 games for Australia.
Folkes’ career at the Bulldogs did not finish upon his retirement as a player. In 1996 and 1997, he served as the side’s reserve coach and soon after, he was appointed as head coach of the club. In 1998, he took the side to the grand final before they lost to winners, the Brisbane Broncos.
Folkes was coach in 2002 when it was found that the club had breached the salary cap and were thus stripped of 37 competition points, effectively ending any chance they had to win a grand final. However, as all good sides do, they bounced back and ended up winning the 2004 NRL premiership.
In the end, Folkes was coach of the Bulldogs in 288 games and ended with a winning percentage of 56%.
2004, being the year of the Bulldogs, also saw Folkes win the 2004 Dally M Coach of the Year Award.
12. Andrew Ryan – A local Dubbo junior, Andrew Ryan played for the Bulldogs arch rivals, the Parramatta Eels in 73 games before making the move to the Bulldogs in 2003. Thus, over the course of 9 seasons, Ryan amassed 218 games for the club and scored 52 tries in the process.
The Bulldogs acquired Ryan after the Eels were forced to offload him due to salary cap issues at the time and he never looked back after that, going on to become a fan favourite. 2004 was one of the best years for Ryan as a Bulldog. He was a part of the club’s premiership-winning side, was named for both NSW and Australia that year and was also named captain during the grand final with regular captain Steve Price out.
After Price made a permanent move away from the club to the New Zealand Warriors, Ryan became the club’s full-time captain and led from the front until his retirement with his constant work-rate and hard work on show. He represented NSW, Australia and NSW Country on further occasions during that time and in 2009, was named Dally M Captain of the Year after he guided the club to the preliminary final.
Ryan is still involved with the NRL to this day, working as both an ambassador and a player welfare officer with the NRL.
13. Simon Gillies – Somewhat of an unsung hero over his 11 seasons with the Bulldogs, Gillies was a solid worker and a player that many fans admired throughout his career. A NSW and Australian international, Gillies played a total of 161 games and was a member of the club’s 1995 NSWRL premiership winning team. His older brother Ben Gillies also played for the Bulldogs.
He was also a member of the team during the club’s loss to the Raiders in the 1994 NSWRL grand final as a reserve player.
Apart from the premiership, perhaps his best achievement was being given the captaincy after the retirement of Terry Lamb at the end of the 1996 season. He remained captain of the team for two years after that before he himself made the decision to retire.
14. Glen Hughes – The Hughes name is one that is synonymous with the Bulldogs club. Glen’s father Garry played for the club, as did his brothers Corey and Steven.
Playing with the club for 13 seasons, the utility played a total of 177 games primarily as a lock and five-eighth. He was a member of the club’s 1995 NSWRL premiership success and played off the bench in the club’s other grand final appearance in 1998. A mature player with the ball in hand, Hughes impressed many during his time at five-eighth and his defence was a key factor in his good form, as he helped guide the club to the 1998 grand final.
15. Steve Price – Price burst onto the scene in 1994 as a rookie and played in the club’s grand final appearance in 1994 which they lost. Any disappointment was not around for long, though, as Price was a member of the club’s 1995 premiership success. It was at this time that Price established himself as a premier prop/back-rower, becoming one of the best during his time in the NSWRL and NRL.
His work-rate continued to be on show throughout his career and he was a regular for both Queensland and Australia during his career. He made another grand final appearance in 1998 but that campaign was unsuccessful as the Bulldogs lost.
The next accolade for Price came at the start of the 2002 season when he was named as captain of the Bulldogs side in what was a solid first year for Price in the role. The Bulldogs performed well on the field but it coincided with the salary cap breach that ruled them out of contention for any finals appearance.
2003 was yet another good season for Price as captain with the Bulldogs winning 18 regular seasons games, a semi-final berth and a Player of the Year award by Rugby League Week. In 2004, Price performed well during the Origin series and was awarded the Ron McAuliffe Medal as player of the series.
2004 proved to be the last of Price’s career as a Bulldog and he enjoyed a solid final season with the club as they finished second on the ladder and won the grand final. Unfortunately, Price was not playing in the grand final after he tore his medial ligament ruling him out of the final game.
Ahead of the 2005 season, Price moved to the New Zealand Warriors where he finished his career.
16. Ray Gartner – A five-eighth by trade, Gartner was a mainstay of the Bulldogs side over 11 seasons during the 1950’s and 1960’s. A handy play-maker, Gartner was a natural leader on and off the field and captained a NSW Colts side against Great Britain. He is the son of another Canterbury great Joe Gartner.
Gartner also played a bit of centre during his time at the Bulldogs and was captain of the club in 71 first-grade games. From 1955, he formed a handy partnership in the halves with Ron Thornton that lasted until the 1962 season.
17. Steve Reardon – A handy back-rower and lock, Reardon made his debut in the early 90’s and played in 163 games for the club over a 12-season period. A member of the Bulldogs 1998 grand final appearance in 1998.
His career was not all rosy to start off with as he suffered from a season-ending injury in 1993. For the next couple of seasons, he started in reserve grade as he had to work his way back into the side. He was then in and out of the first-grade side over the next few years but after hard work and grit shown by him, Reardon eventually became a mainstay from 1999.
Starting out mostly as a lock, he eventually found a home on the back-row from 2000 but did switch between the two positions throughout his career.