Like any such list – trying to decide who the top ten Rugby League players of all time are is a subjective business. But we’re going to have a go anyway! Who you would include on such a list will depend a huge amount on which hemisphere you’re from and how old you are. So to make matters a little more simple, we’ve decided to restrict it to UK players only. This precludes mention of players from down-under, obviously. So it’s only fair to point out that Australia is still really where it’s at for Rugby League – as much as this kind of thing may stick in the craw, somewhat, of UK fans. But the facts speak for themselves; Great Britain’s Rugby League side hasn’t won an Ashes test series against Australia now since 1970.
As for Rugby League World Cup wins – well Australia are easily the most successful team, having won 10 of the 14 tournaments since the World cup began, including seven of the last eight since 1972 when the UK last won. The only team in recent years to upset the apple cart was New Zealand in 2008. This was particularly impressive as the tournament was staged in Australia. Nevertheless, Australia dominate and that dominance is reflected in the Betfair exchange betting market for the next Rugby League World Cup – with Australia already installed as hot favourites.
So a few of the great Australian names of yesteryear such as Reg Gasnier, Bob ‘Bozo’ Fulton, Andrew ‘Joey’ Johns, Frank Burge, Clive Churchill, Graeme Langlands, Arthur Beetson, Wally Lewis, Herbert Henry ‘Dally’ Messenger, and John ‘Chook’ Raper deserve a special mention. So now we’ve acknowledged the Australians, let’s have a look at what could be the top ten UK players:
The Top 10 British Rugby League players of all time
10 – Kevin Sinfield
Kevin Sinfield is still plying his trade today for the Leeds Rhinos – and what a player he has been down the years. He’s been at his club for 17 years now and deserves to be on the list not only because he’s a great player – but also for his longevity.
9 – Sam Tomkins
Still only 25 years of age and now playing for the Auckland Warriors in New Zealand, Tomkins is a controversial inclusion on the list as he’s yet to prove himself fully. But the former Wigan player has won two Super League Grand Finals (2010 & 2013) and two Challenge Cups (2011 and 2013) and is simply awesome.
8 – Martin Offiah
“Chariots” Offiah was probably the quickest player Rugby League has ever seen. Plying his trade mainly for Wigan from the late 80s to the early 2000s, Offiah scored an incredible 501 tries during his entire rugby league career. This makes him the third-highest scorer of all time.
7 – Garry Schofield
When he retired, Garry Schofield was Great Britain’s most-capped player ever, tying with Mick Sullivan on 46 appearances. He was awarded the 1990 Rugby League World Golden Boot Award for best player in the world – mainly for his amazing performances for Great Britain in the test series win in New Zealand and GB’s victory over Australia at Wembley by 19–12.
6 – Andy Gregory
Pocket battleship Andy Gregory plied his trade mainly for his home town of Wigan – having previously played for Widnes and Warrington. At Wigan between 1986 and 1992, Gregory was the first ever player to win the Lance Todd Trophy twice. He was also the first man to win five Challenge Cup Final winners’ medals (he won them consecutively) and the first RL player to play in eight Challenge Cup finals in total. He is also the only man to have played in six Ashes series. He was simply an amazing player – particularly when you consider he was just 5 feet, 5 inches.
5 – Roger Millward
Next up, though we have another scrum-half and one who was an inch shorter, even, than Gregory. Weighing less than 11 stones, Roger the Dodger Millward spent 14 years at Hull KR from 1966 to 1980. But it was for his international appearances that he’s best-remembered. He scored his first Test try during Great Britain’s 16-11 win against Australia at Headingley in 1967. Three years later, Great Britain won the Ashes in Australia and Millward was instrumental in making this happen. He scored 20 points during the 28-7 second Test that put GB on level terms, then scored the winning try in the third Test.
4 – Shaun Edwards
Stand-off Shaun Edwards was another Wigan native who enjoyed his best years by far at his home-town club. He remains the game’s most decorated player in domestic rugby league and is the fourth most-capped player in Test history. Edwards played for Wigan between 1983 and 1997 and Edwards – the glory years. He became club captain of the side that won 43 Challenge Cup ties in a row, including eight Challenge Cup titles along the way – and Shaun Edwards played in every round over the eight years.
3 – Ellery Hanley
Yet another Wigan player from the 80s who deserves to be near the top of the list is, of course, Ellery Hanley. During a career spanning 19 years, Ellery Hanley played for Bradford Northern, Wigan, Balmain, Western Suburbs, Leeds and his country. In 2007, he was voted the greatest UK player ever. He was probably the single most versatile player the game has ever seen and played for Great Britain at loose forward, centre, stand-off, and on the wing. During the 1984 Lions tour down-under, he scored 12 tries in 17 games from the wing. He was made tour captain in 1988 and led the British Lions to a memorable 26-12 win in the third Test at the Sydney Football Stadium.
2 – Billy Boston
A name synonymous with Wigan (yet again) and with Rugby League – Billy Boston is one of the most famous players the game of Rugby League has ever produced. Born in Cardiff in 1934, Boston played as winger or centre. He started in rugby union, but joined Wigan in 1953 and spent the next fifteen seasons there plying his trade to memorable effect. Boston scored 478 tries from 488 appearances and played 31 Test matches for his country. He was also an integral part of the GB side that won the 1960 Rugby League World Cup. Boston remains the second-highest try scorer in the history of the sport.
1 – Alex Murphy
At the top of the list is one Alex Murphy – a simply incredible player. The scrum-half made his name on the Lions’ tour of Australia in 1958 aged just 19. He had everything; electrifying pace, perfect balance, guts and determination. During that 1958 tour, he scored 21 tries from 20 appearances adding a further nine tries from 11 matches four years later. Altogether, Alex Murphy made more than 500 professional appearances between 1956 and 1975, 319 of which were for St. Helens.