Rugby League has brought together the greatest array of playing talent in the game’s history for the naming of its Team of the Century.
Seventeen superstars from the very first - Dally Messenger - to the recently retired Andrew Johns have been named along with the legendary Jack Gibson chosen as the master coach of the game’s first one hundred years.
The Team of the Century is:
Fullback: Clive Churchill
Wingers: Ken Irvine, Brian Bevan
Centres: Reg Gasnier, Mal Meninga
Five-eighth: Wally Lewis
Halfback: Andrew Johns
Lock: John Raper
Second row: Ron Coote, Norm Provan
Front row: Duncan Hall, Arthur Beetson
Hooker: Noel Kelly
Reserves: Dally Messenger, Bob Fulton, Graeme Langlands, Frank Burge
Coach: Jack Gibson
The Chairman of the Rugby League Centenary Committee, Mr Colin Love AM, paid tribute to the players and coach named in the squad.
“Each one of the great players named in this team has made an indelible mark on the pages of Rugby League history.
“In many ways this has been a seemingly impossible exercise and there are many players and many experts who could rightly point to alternate combinations.
“That in itself is recognition of the game’s competitive spirit and of the excellence of generations of players who to this day continue to set new standards in Australian sport.
“The Centenary Committee’s Team of the Century, though, establishes seventeen champion players and a masterful coach as the standard bearers of the game’s first one hundred years.”
The team was announced at the Royal Hall of Industries (on the site of the old Sydney Showgrounds that launched Rugby League in Australia) and was the highlight of a Centenary Ball that included the biggest ever gathering of Rugby League legends.
The evening opened with a formal tribute to the 100 Greatest Players of Rugby League’s first century with 94 of the 100 represented either in person or through their descendents.
The Team of the Century was selected by a panel of 28 former coaches, players, officials, historians and media representatives invited by the Centenary of Rugby League Committee.
The panel chose The Team of The Century by secret ballot in December 2007 with the votes not tabulated until after the event by an independent accounting firm.
The careers of each of the top one hundred players were detailed as the panel spent hours discussing each position before casting their votes (biographies, photographs and video of the One Hundred Greatest players can be found at the official Centenary website http://www.centenaryofrugbyleague.com.au/site/the-players.aspx?cat=4&list=true).
Votes were cast by secret ballot with each judge first selecting his preferred Team of the Century, then ranking the top players in each position and finally choosing the 10 greatest players of all time.
The panel was: Ferris Ashton, Frank Stanton, Cyril Connell, John Hayes, John McDonald, Chris Anderson, Greg Alexander, Mark Coyne, Ron Massey, Ian Heads, David Middleton, Sean Fagan, Geoff Armstrong, Ken Arthurson, John Quayle, Geoff Carr, Ray Chesterton, Roy Masters, Steve Ricketts, Gary Lester, Alan Clarkson, John McCoy, David Morrow, Kevin Brasch, Russell Fairfax, Warren Kimberley and Max Howell with David Gallop as the non-voting Chairman.
Notes on the Team of the Century
Clubs: Central Newcastle 1946-7; South Sydney 1947-58; Norths Brisbane 1959.
Club Landmarks: Won Premierships with Souths 1950–51, 1953–55
Games for NSW: 37 (1948–57); Games for Qld: One (1959);
Tests for Australia: 34 (1948–56) — 24 as captain;
World Cup matches: Three (1954) — all as captain
Representative landmarks: Kangaroo tours 1948–49, 1952–53 (captain), 1956–57; Australian tours of New Zealand 1949, 1953; World Cup 1954;
It was the legendary Ray Stehr who tagged Clive Churchill the ‘Little Master’, while the original Master, Dally Messenger, said simply: “Churchill is the Greatest”. Just 76kg and 168cm tall, Churchill, with his courage and will to win, towered over the game through the forties and fifties.
He revolutionised the fullback position and was as fierce in defence as he was brilliant in attack. Clive would later turn his hand to coaching and guide Souths to four more Premierships (’67, ’68, ’70 and ’71).
Clubs: Eastern Suburbs 1942–46; Warrington 1945–62; Blackpool Borough 1962–64
Club landmarks: Won Challenge Cups with Warrington 1950 and 1954; scored world record 796 career tries
Representative landmarks: Played 16 times for Other Nationalities (1949–55)
Brian Bevan is the only member of the side not to represent Australia. He played just seven games for Easts before heading to England – ironically his only points in Australia came from a goal.
In the UK a legend was born as Bevan set a still unbeaten world record for the most tries scored in a career, 796 in 688 first class appearances; he topped the English try-scoring lists five times and seven times scored more than 50 tries in a season as he and fellow Australian Harry Bath inspired Warrington to trophy-winning feats in the 1940s-50s.
Clubs: North Sydney 1958–70; Manly 1971–73
Club landmarks: Won premierships with Manly 1972–73; scored premiership record 212 tries in 236 premiership games
Games for NSW: 30 (1950–67);
Tests for Australia: 31 (1959–67);
World Cup matches: Two (1960)
Representative landmarks: Kangaroo tours 1959–60, 1963–64, 1967–68; World Cup 1960; Australia tours of New Zealand 1961, 1965; Scored record 33 Test tries for Australia
Ken Irvine was the fastest player of his age. His tally of 212 premiership tries is almost 50 tries more than second-best and his final count of 33 tries in 31 Test matches is another record that is likely to stand the test of time.
Irvine played for 13 seasons with the North Sydney club and scored 171 tries from 176 games before heading to Manly in search of a Premiership. He would finish with two and through it all remained one of League’s most popular figures.
Club: St George 1959–67
Club landmarks: Won premierships with St George 1959–66; Scored 127 tries in 125 games for St George
Games for NSW: 21 (1959–67); Tests for Australia: 36 (1959–67) — eight as captain; World Cup matches: Three (1960)
Representative landmarks: Kangaroo tours 1959–60, 1963–64, 1967–68 (as captain); World Cup 1960; Australian tours of New Zealand 1961, 1965.
‘Puff The Magic Dragon’ scored 219 tries in 223 first-class games. He remains Australia’s youngest captain against Great Britain (23 years, 28 days, in the first Test of 1962), was a three-time Kangaroo, and a member of eight premiership-winning sides with St George. He retired aged just 28, due to a broken leg, after captaining Australia on the 1967-68 Kangaroo tour.
Clubs: Souths Brisbane 1979–85; St Helens 1984–85; Canberra 1986–94
Club landmarks: Won Brisbane premierships with Souths 1981, 1985; Captained Canberra to premiership wins 1989–90, 1994
Games for Qld: 42 (1979–84; includes 32 State of Origins 1980–94)
Tests for Australia: 45 (1982–94) — 23 as captain
World Cup matches: One (captain)
Representative landmarks: Kangaroo tours 1982, 1986, 1990 (captain), 1994 (captain).
A State of Origin pioneer, Mal Meninga is the only player to have toured four times with the Kangaroos and the only player to make two tours as captain. His endless list of achievements is testimony to the strength and perseverance displayed over a magnificent 16-year career.
As well as overcoming anyone who dared stand between him and the try-line, the giant centre had to overcome the pain and frustration of four broken arms on the way to spearheading Canberra to its first Premiership and a place as one of the finest attacking teams of the modern era.
Clubs: Brisbane Valleys 1978–83; Wakefield Trinity 1983–84; Wynnum-Manly 1984–87; Brisbane Broncos 1988–90; Gold Coast 1991–92
Club landmarks: Won Brisbane premierships with Valleys 1979, Wynnum 1984, 1986
Games for Qld: 38 (1979–91; includes 31 State of Origins 1980–91)
Tests for Australia: 33 (1981–91) — 23 as captain
World Cup matches: One (1988 — as captain)
Representative landmarks: Kangaroo tours 1982, 1986 (captain); World Cup 1988
Lewis embodied State of Origin football. A young lock forward in the inaugural Origin game in 1980, he made 30 appearances as five-eighth and captain between 1981 and 1991, winning eight man-of-the match awards. No one could control a big match like ‘The King’.
Lewis made his Test debut in 1981 and was unchallenged as Australian captain from 1984 to 1989. He also dominated Brisbane club football in the ’80s, with Valleys and then Wynnum-Manly before being the Brisbane Broncos’ first captain then finishing his career on the Gold Coast.
Clubs: Newcastle 1993–2007; Warrington 2005
Appearances for NSW: 23 (1995–2005)
Club landmarks: Won premierships with Newcastle 1997 and 2001 (as captain)
Games for NSW: 23 (1995–2005)
Tests for Australia: 21 (1995–2006) — two as captain
World Cup matches: Five (1995–2000)
Representative landmarks: Kangaroo tour 2001; World Cups 1995, 2000
Johns is the highest scorer in Australian first-grade premiership history with 2176 points. He has won every major award the game has to offer: the Dally M Medal (for a record three times), the Clive Churchill Medal and the Golden Boot.
His daring and genius delivered Newcastle their first ever Premiership and his brilliant captaincy and skill delivered their second. His kicking and passing skills changed the game for ever while his courage in defence was an inspiration.
Clubs: Newtown 1957–58; St George 1959–69; Wests Newcastle 1970–72; Kurri Kurri 1973–74
Club landmarks: Won premierships with St George 1959–66
Appearances for NSW: 31 (1959–70)
Tests: 33 (1959–68) — four as captain
World Cup matches: Six (1960–68) — four as captain
Representative landmarks: Kangaroo tours 1959–60, 1963–64, 1967–68; World Cup 1960, 1968 (captain)
After starting his career at Newtown, Raper played in eight premierships with St George, 33 Tests, made three Kangaroo tours and was the victorious Australian captain at the 1968 World Cup.
Raper wrote the book on tackling and was famous for his scything low dives and his sheer physical strength. Often forgotten is the beautiful instinct he had for doing the right thing with the ball in his hands every time. His endurance was remarkable in days when footballers played 80 minutes.
Clubs: South Sydney 1964–71; Eastern Suburbs 1972–78
Club landmarks: Won premierships with Souths 1967–68, 1970–71; Won premierships with Easts 1974–75
Games for NSW: 15 (1965–75)
Tests for Australia: 13 (1967–74)
World Cup matches: 10 (1968–75) — three as captain
Representative landmarks: Kangaroo tour 1967–68; World Cups 1968, 1970; Captained Australia to World Cup win 1970; World Series 1975
From his debut with South Sydney in 1964, the rangy Coote was hailed as the heir apparent to the great Johnny Raper as a lock. A tall and gifted athlete, Coote possessed many of Raper’s qualities — he was a superb cover-defender and fast and powerful with the ball in hand – but when he made the Test side it was as second-rower, with Raper having a mortgage on the lock jersey.
He captained Australia in the 1970 World Cup, twice won the Harry Sunderland Medal (best in a series against Great Britain) and played in nine grand finals in the space of 11 seasons with Souths and Easts (winning six times).
Club: St George 1951–65
Club landmarks: Won premierships with St George 1956–65; Captained St George to premiership wins 1962–65
Appearances for NSW: 25 (1954–61)
Tests: 14 (1954–60)
World Cup matches: Four (1954–57)
Representative landmarks: Kangaroo tour 1956–57; World Cups 1954, 1957
Provan was a giant of the game in every respect. Apart from his imposing stature (he stood 193cm), Provan was a towering figure for St George in their record run of premiership wins and for Australia in 18 Test and World Cup appearances.
He played in 10 of St George’s 11 successive grand final victories, the last four as captain-coach. He bowed out in 1965, when the Dragons triumphed 12–8 over Souths in front of a record 78,056 spectators.
Clubs: Christian Brothers Rockhampton 1945–47; Brisbane Valleys 1948–49; Home Hill 1950; Newtown, Toowoomba 1951–52; Brisbane Wests 1954–57
Club landmarks: Won Brisbane premiership with Wests 1954
Games for Qld: 24 (1948–55)
Tests for Australia: 22 (1948–55)
World Cup matches: One (1954)
Representative landmarks: Kangaroo tours 1948–49, 1952–53; World Cup 1954
Hall has long been regarded as one of Australia’s greatest post-war front-rowers. He rose to prominence in the period immediately following World War II, toured twice with the Kangaroos and played in two Ashes-winning series for Australia (and was robbed of a third tour by a knee injury).
He was the forward mainstay of Australian teams for seven years, contributing mightily to Australia’s Ashes triumphs in 1950 and 1954. Hall played his entire domestic career in Queensland.
Clubs: Roma Cities 1963; Redcliffe 1964–65, 1981; Balmain 1966–70; Hull Kingston Rovers 1968–68; Eastern Suburbs 1971–78; Parramatta 1979–80.
Club landmarks: Won Brisbane premiership with Redcliffe 1965; Captained Easts to premiership wins 1974–75
Games for NSW: 18 (1966–77)
Games for Qld: Three (1980–81; includes one State of Origin 1980)
Tests for Australia: 14 (1966–74) — two as captain
World Cup matches: 14 (1968–77) — six as captain
Representative landmarks: Captained Queensland in first State of Origin 1980; Kangaroo tour 1973; World Cups 1968, 1972; World Series 1975, 1977
After starting his career in Roma as a back, Beetson became the greatest ball-playing forward of all-time.
He moved to Sydney to play for Balmain, made the Test team in his first season as a second-rower and in 1971 switched to Eastern Suburbs (and the front row) where he would go on to lead one of the greatest club teams of all time to consecutive Premierships in 1974-75. Playing in the twilight of his career at Parramatta he would change the face of interstate football forever as he returned to lead Queensland in the first ever State of Origin game in 1980.
Clubs: Ipswich Brothers 1958–59; Ayr 1960; Western Suburbs 1961–69; Wollongong 1970
Games for NSW: Six (1963–67)
Games for Qld: Eight (1959–60)
Tests for Australia: 25 (1959–68)
World Cup matches: Three (1960)
Representative landmarks: Kangaroo tours 1959–60, 1963–64, 1967–68; World Cup 1960
Noel ‘Ned’ Kelly made two Kangaroo tours as hooker and one as a prop. The Queensland-born tough man’s career began at Ipswich and included a nine-season stint with Wests in Sydney where his side had to regularly play second fiddle to the might of St George.
Kelly played 25 Tests in the Australian engine room at a time when Rugby League was at its roughest and toughest. Kelly became a Test prop alongside another hard man from the bush, Ian Walsh, and remained equally effective in both positions. At Wests, he was a natural leader, taking over as captain-coach in 1966.
Clubs: Wollongong 1962; St George 1963–76
Club landmarks: Won premierships with St George 1963–66; Scored club record 1554 points for St George
Appearances for NSW: 36 (1962–75)
Tests: 34 (1963–74) — seven as captain
World Cup matches: 11 (1968–75 — eight as captain)
Representative landmarks: Kangaroo tours 1963–64, 1967–68, 1973 (captain); Australian tours of New Zealand 1965, 1969, 1971 (captain); World Cups 1968, 1972 (captain); World Series 1975 (captain)
While predominantly a fullback for his club, Langlands played most of his Test football in the 1960s in the centres. In truth he was a genius anywhere on the field and would rank as one of the game’s greats in either position.
‘Changa’ had an amazing side-step, pace and an ability to read the game like few others before or since. He was Saints captain from 1970 to 1976, captain-coach from 1972-76, first-choice Australian captain from 1970 to 1975 and captain-coach of the 1973 Kangaroos.
Clubs: Wests Wollongong 1965; Manly 1966–76; Warrington 1969–70; Eastern Suburbs 1977–79
Club landmarks: Won premierships with Manly 1972–73, 1976 (captain)
Games for NSW: 16 (1967–78)
Tests for Australia: 20 (1970–78) — seven as captain
World Cup matches: 15 (1968–75)
Representative landmarks: Kangaroo tours 1973, 1978 (as captain); World Cups 1968, 1970, 1972; World Series 1975
Fulton was known as the master of the unorthodox, a brilliant individualist who could single-handedly turn a game with a burst of acceleration, a step or a jinking run.
The force that drove Bob Fulton was a competitive spirit that coursed through every vein in his body, and it propelled him to great heights as a player and later as a coach at club and international level. Fulton holds the unique distinction of winning premiership titles and Ashes series as a player, captain and coach.
Herbert ‘Dally’ MESSENGER
Club: Eastern Suburbs 1908–13
Club landmarks: Captained Easts to premiership wins 1911–13
Appearances for NSW: 23 (1908–13)
Appearances for Qld: 1 (1908)
Tests: Seven (1908–10) — three as captain
Representative landmarks: Kangaroo tour 1908–09; New Zealand tour of Great Britain 1907–08; Two Tests for New Zealand 1908
Herbert Henry ‘Dally’ Messenger was known throughout Rugby League as ‘The Master’. He was the game’s first true champion and helped secure the future of the fledgling code when he signed on in August 1907.
Messenger stood close to 5ft 8in (172cm) and at his peak in Rugby League played at around 12 stone (76kg).He was a free spirit, renowned for his unorthodoxy and referred to often as a ‘rover’ rather than a traditional ‘centre’ or a ‘winger’. He was also the peerless goalkicker of his day. He developed the skill of passing the ball over the heads of opponents and regathering - a move which was later outlawed.
Position: Lock/Second row/Front row
Clubs: Glebe 1911–23, 1926; Grenfell 1923–25; St George 1927
Club landmarks: Holds premiership record for most tries in a game (8); Scored 146 tries in 154 first grade games
Games for NSW: 18 (1912–26)
Tests for Australia: 13 (1914–22)
Representative landmarks: Kangaroo tour 1921–22; Australian tour of New Zealand 1919
Frank Burge, a first grader at 16, had few peers when it came to forward play in the early years of Rugby League. Time after time over the long years after his retirement, he was called “the greatest forward Australia has produced”.
He scored tries at a phenomenal rate for a forward, maintaining an average of better than a try per game in a career that lasted 17 seasons. He holds the record for most tries in a premiership game: eight for Glebe against University in 1920. He scored 33 tries in 23 tour matches for the Kangaroos in 1921–22 and by the end of his career had amassed 218 tries in 213 senior matches.
Clubs: Eastern Suburbs: 1967-68, 74-76; St George 1970-71; Newtown 1973; Souths 1978-79; Parramatta 1981-83; Cronulla 1985-87.
Representative matches: NSW 1989-90.
Jack Gibson was the man who would revolutionise the position of coach. The former Easts, Newtown and Western Suburbs front-rower kicked if off with a bang in 1967. The Roosters hadn’t won a game in 1966 when the slow-talking Jack put them in the fast lane to the semi-finals in his first year.
He made numerous trips to the United States, bringing back the latest coaching technology and a seemingly endless supply of laconic one-liners.
His Roosters teams in 1974-75 and the Parramatta sides of 1981-83 are regarded as some of the most brilliant club teams ever assembled. Each had its share of talent but each included selection gambles that set Jack apart from everyone in his era. He would finish with five Premierships from six grand finals.