With over a 125 years worth of players to choose from, it can be hard to pick only a handful of players to highlight as Rugby League’s greatest. The list below serves as a brief snapshot of players who have had an undeniable influence on the way the game is played, because of their incredible talent, technique and personas. The list below is given in no particular order:
Clive Churchill began playing Rugby League during his schoolboy days in Newcastle, Australia in the early part of the twentieth century. By the time he was 20, he had been signed to South Sydney, and became a regular starting player. In one infamous game, he scored a successful sideline conversion to win the game, even though he was nursing a broken arm, wrapped in cardboard.
He played with the club for 12 seasons, although he missed some games whilst representing his state and country. Upon his retirement, Churchill was Australia’s most capped player. After his retirement, he became a highly regarded non-player coach, helping to guide the South Sydney team to even more Premiership victories.
Nicknamed The Black Pearl or Mr Magic, Ellery Hanley spent nearly 20 years playing rugby league at a club level, starting off with Bradford Northern, then graduating up to the Wigan Warriors in 1985. During his playing careers, Hanley was known for his versatility, moving easily between loose forward, five-eighth, centre and wing positions. During his second season at Wigan, he scored 63 tries whilst playing at centre, loose forward and stand-off, which was an all-time record for a non-winger.
In 1988, he was awarded the Rugby League Golden Boot Award. After his retirement from playing professional rugby league, he moved into coaching.
Stacey Jones is widely regarded as one of the best Rugby League players that New Zealand has ever produced. As the grandchild of Māori league and union great Maunga Emery, Jones has rugby in his veins, and he started to play at a club level at a young age. As well as representing the New Zealand International team, he has played for club teams in New Zealand and in the Super League in Europe.
He earned the nickname “The Little General” for his ability to control the game, despite his small stature.
Australian Rugby League player Johnathan Thurston is probably the greatest player active in the game at the moment. He is the only player to have won the international Golden Boot Award three times, having picked up the trophy in 2011, 2013 and 2015. In 2008, he was named as halfback in the theoretical Australian Aboriginal team of the century. Off of the pitch, he is well-known for the charitable work that he does to support Australia’s aboriginal community.
Puig Aubert is sometimes referred to as the greatest French rugby league star of all-time. Over the course of his playing career, he was part of a French championship winning side on 5 occasions and the French cup 4 times. As a player in the 1940s and 50s, he was notable for his quirky habits, such as smoking whilst on the field. Following his retirement, he went on to coach France.
Tom van Vollenhoven
Tom van Vollenhoven was one of South Africa’s most internationally famous rugby league players. After initially starting out as a rugby union player, he switched codes upon moving to the UK, where he had a long and fruitful career with St. Helens. He went on to become one of the finest wingers of his era. His first try for St Helens has gone down in oral history as one of the greatest tries in the history of the game, although there is no video footage of the try available anywhere in the world!
During Gus Risman’s schoolboy days, he was scouted by rugby union and association football clubs, but he eventually nailed his flag to the post of rugby league, beginning his playing career in with the Salford Red Devils at just 17 years old. During his playing career, he represented both Wales and Great Britain. Because of his longevity and skill, he is currently the Welshman with the second highest number of points scored throughout his career.
Wally Lewis ranks highly in many lists of top Australian Rugby League players, and also regularly features on international lists. Nicknamed “The King”, he was known for his creative playmaking, as well as his ability to dominate any game he played in. During his playing career, he was vice-captain and then captain for the Australian national touring team, known as “The Invincibles.” In 1984, Lewis was awarded the inaugural Golden Boot Award. Following his retirement, he became a well-liked sports commentator.
Lockyer is another one of Australia’s greatest Rugby League players. As a one club man, he spent the entire of his professional playing career signed with the Brisbane Broncos, setting countless records in the process, including most National Rugby League (NRL) appearances, most games as captain, and highest number of tries for the Australian National Team. He was known for his clean style of play, and was never once charged or suspended by the NRL across the whole of his 17 year playing career. Since retirement, he has moved into television commentary.
Kevin Sinfield started his playing career with Waterhead, before being signed for Leeds Rhinos in 1997. By 2000, he was ready to represent England in the 2000 Rugby League World Cup, and went on to represent his country at an international level many more times. Over the course of his playing career, he was able to accrue the highest number of points in Super League history.
In 2012, Sinfield won the coveted Golden Boot Award, making him the oldest player to date to have received the accolade. Although he played his entire professional League career with Leeds Rhinos, he has started to make appearances for the Union team Yorkshire Carnegie following his League retirement.