Published in Thirteen in 2005
by Jason Emery
The British Invasion
From the late 1960s up to the start of Super League in 1996 when the competition moved to the summer months, British rugby league players were always in high demand down under and over a hundred players played at the highest level during this period.
Whether it was guest stints or long-term contracts at the Aussie clubs, the British stars were nearly always popular figures on and off the field and they brought a new dimension to the Australian style, adding a range of attacking flair never before seen in the Aussie game.
In recent years only Adrian Morley at the Sydney Roosters has made a similar impact in the NRL and with the two competitions now running parallel the number of Brits trying their luck in the NRL has become a rarity.
Here we’ve compiled a list of over 100 British players and the Australian clubs that they played for. Then we pick our top ten.
BALMAIN TIGERS: Dave Bolton, Brian Lockwood, Jim Fiddler, Dave Topliss, Tony Myler, John Bentley, Andy Currier, Ellery Hanley, Garry Schofield, Lee Crooks, Shaun Edwards, Daryl Powell, Keith Barnes (Welsh RU)
BRISBANE BRONCOS: Harvey Howard
CANBERRA RAIDERS: Kevin Beardmore
CANTERBURY BULLDOGS: Brian Lockwood, Doug Laughton, Mick Adams, Eric Hughes, Colin Whitfield, Gary Connolly, Jonathon Davies, Merv Hicks, Alan Burwell
CRONULLA SHARKS: Tommy Bishop, Cliff Watson, Bob Wear, Paul Bishop, Roger Millward, Vince Farrer, Dave Eckersley, Jeff Grayshon, Mike Gregory, Brian Noble, Allan Bateman, Billy Benyon
GOLD COAST: Dean Sampson, Graham Steadman, David Myles, Paul Bishop, Gary Divorty, Daryl Powell, Paul Dixon, Gary Charlton, Richie Mathers
ILLAWARRA STEELERS: Steve Hampson, Andy Gregory, Andy Kelly
MANLY SEA EAGLES: Malcolm Reilly, Steve Norton, Phil Lowe, John Gray, Andy Goodway, Bernard Dwyer, John Devereux, David Myles, Gary Stephens, Hugh Waddell, Kevin Ward, Fred Pickup
MELBOURNE STORM: Keith Mason, Ian Sibbit, Gareth Widdop
NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS: Chris Joynt, Lee Jackson, Brian Carney, James McManus
NEW ZEALAND WARRIORS: Denis Betts, Andy Platt
NEWTOWN JETS: Charlie Renilson
NORTH QUEENSLAND COWBOYS: Jonathan Davies, Kevin Ellis
NORTH SYDNEY BEARS: John Gray, Jim Mills, Jim Fiddler, Merv Hicks
PARRAMATTA EELS: Ivor Lingard, Dean Sampson, Vince Fawcett, Chris Thorman
PENRITH PANTHERS: Mike Stephenson, Bill Ashurst, Tracey Lazenby, David Topliss
PERTH REDS: Barrie-Jon Mather, Daio Powell
SOUTH SYDNEY RABBITOHS: Henderson Gill, Lee Jackson, Gary Price, Sam Burgess
SOUTH QUEENSLAND CRUSHERS: Mike Ford, St John Ellis
ST GEORGE DRAGONS: Dick Huddart, Martin Offiah, Ken Batty, Steve McNamara, Robin Gourley (Irish RU), Richard Gay
SYDNEY ROOSTERS: Bobby Goulding, Mike Ford, Phil Clarke, Joe Lydon, Harvey Howard, Martin Offiah, Adrian Morley, Mark Edmondson, Jordan Tansey
WESTERN SUBURBS: Ellery Hanley, Garry Schofield, Lee Crooks, Des Drummond, Steve Henderson, Deryck Fox, Kelvin Skerrett, Harvey Howard, David Myles
WESTS TIGERS: Gareth Ellis, Mark Flanagan
THE TOP TEN
The Black Pearl was an inspiration for the Balmain Tigers and almost single handedly won them the competition in 1988. Aussie fans still talk in awe of his classy performances which saw Hanley rip defences to shreds with his evasive ball running and distribution. He had the ability to make something out of nothing and he was one of the biggest crowd pleasers to play in Australia.
Reilly earned a reputation for being one of the most skilful and toughest players ever to lace on a boot and such was the regard in which he is held in the Australian game, he was recently named in the Team of the Seventies, becoming the first and only Brit to be named in the prestigious team. Reilly won two grand finals with Manly and also won the 1997 ARL title as coach of Newcastle.
Bishop proved to be a wonderful organising half for the Sharks during the successful early 70’s. Along with fellow Brit Cliff Watson, Bishop spearheaded Cronulla’s charge to the 1973 grand final where they went within a whisker of upsetting Manly. He went on to coach Cronulla.
Gray initially made his mark when he introduced the ‘around the corner’ goalkicking style to Australia in 1974 whilst playing for Great Britain. After that tour he signed for the North Sydney Bears where he displayed a wide range of ball skills and was known for his slick service from acting half. Gray also had the ability and physique to play prop or second row.
The big, dynamic wide running back rower caused havoc to opposition defences during his years with the Sea Eagles. After impressing for Great Britain in 1973, Lowe signed for Manly and continued his great form in Australia, he formed a devastating partnership with fellow Englishmen Steve Norton and Gary Stephens.
For both the Tigers and the Magpies, Schoey was an outstanding player who could score a try out of nothing. Playing mainly in the centres Schofield was always at his best in the big games, revelling in the semi finals. He had a good pair of hands and had a dangerous short kicking game.
After a fairly slow start mainly due to injury, Morley lived up to his big reputation which he earned in the UK about halfway through his first season and has since gone on to be one of the worlds most intimidating forwards. Punishing in defence and a strong direct runner, Morley is very mobile for his size and has good acceleration. Mozza started out in the backrow for the Roosters but has moved to prop in recent times and he remains one of the few forwards in the NRL to play eighty minutes every week.
Another of Manly’s British connection, Ward has the respect of every Australian fan who saw him play. He will always be famous for his man of the match performance against Canberra in the 1987 grand final. In a game played in over 30 degree heat, Ward continually took the ball forward and wore down his opponents in one of the best games ever by a prop. His aggressive style was very well suited to the ARL.
Stevo played for Penrith in the early seventies and he brought a new dimension to the term hooker. He was great out of acting half and was a great line breaker. As well as being fast and skilful, Stephenson’s experience was vital in a young Panthers and he proved to be a wonderful leader and is still highly regarded at the Penrith club today.
Perhaps not the most skilful prop but Watson was one of the toughest. He played a major role in the Cronulla success of the early 70’s and he was the enforcer of the pack. Not a player to be messed with, Watson was like a minder for the tiny, mercurial half Tommy Bishop. The 1973 grand final against Manly remains the bloodiest games of all time and big Cliffy was at the peak of his powers.