It was interesting to read last week that the veteran Australian commentator Ray Warren now rates James Graham as the best Englishman to play in Australia, which is high praise indeed when you consider some of the legends in the last 50 years who have gone down under. Well done to James, because coming from Rabbits, this is high praise indeed. And it got me thinking about who are the best Australians to come and play in England in my time in the game. Here are my top ten.
1. Wally Lewis (Wakefield 1983-84: 10 games, 6 tries)
Wally’s ten games for Wakefield in the 1983-84 season have gone down in Rugby League folklore as one of the most incredible spells of genius produced by a player. He was absolutely superb by Trinity and he left an incredible impression on all those who saw him play.
2. Peter Sterling (Hull 1983-85: 36 games, 9 tries)
The best player I ever played with. Sterlo was a superb player in both of his spells at Hull in the mid-1980s. He got us to Wembley in 1985 and performed magnificently on the big day, but we were thwarted by the next guy on this list. Sterlo will always be loved in Hull.
3. Brett Kenny (Wigan 1984-85: 25 games, 19 tries)
Brett was another sublime player who lit up the English league in the 1980s, and a lot of what he did for Wigan went towards him winning the Golden Boot for his exploits in 1985. Kenny was an unbelievable stand-off who could do anything he wanted as he demonstrated at Wembley in 1985. One of the all-time greats.
4. Mal Meninga (St Helens 1984-85: 31 games, 28 tries)
Big Mal wasn’t at Saints for long either, but his contribution is talked about today just like the fellas above, and I’m sure that his winger Sean Day will never forget playing alongside him. In a brilliant performance, Mal destroyed Wigan with two tries in the Lancashire Cup final and then repeated the trick against Hull KR in the Premiership final.
5. Gene Miles (Wigan 1991-92: 29 games, 8 tries)
Martin Offiah’s ten tries against Leeds in 1992 remains one of my worst moments in the game, and he certainly wouldn’t have got near that total without Gene Miles in the centres! Miles was a winger’s dream and a defender’s nightmare.
6. Cliff Lyons (Leeds 1985-86: 29 games, 16 tries and Sheffield 1986-87: 6 games, 3 tries)
Cliffy remains in my opinion the best overseas player that Leeds have ever had – certainly the best in my lifetime anyway. He brought over a certain indefinable edge that Loiners’ fans hadn’t seen for years. And even though he wasn’t at Sheffield for long, I bet they still remember him.
7. Michael Monaghan (Warrington 2008-14: 183 games, 32 tries*)
Easily the longest-serving player in my list. I actually thought Monaghan made a slow start to his Warrington career, but he was highly instrumental in turning the club from bridesmaids to Wembley winners. He’s been a credit to himself in that he’s not here for a last payday.
8. Jamie Lyon (St Helens 2005-06: 63 games, 46 tries)
I think my favourite memory of Jamie’s outstanding two-season spell at St Helens was in a defeat. 19-0 down to Leeds in the 2005 play-offs, with Lyon already named Man of Steel, he came so close to winning the game single-handedly in a heroic ten minutes. His time at the club evoked memories of Mal Meninga.
9. Greg Dowling (Wigan 1985-86: 25 games, 5 tries)
Greg was one of the hardest forwards in the game in the 1980s and he did a great job for Wigan at a time when the standards set by other Australian players were so high. His first try for the club was in a semi0final and so was his last. He even kicked a drop-goal in the final – the 11-8 win over Hull KR in the John Player Final.
10. John Ferguson (Wigan 1984-85: 25 games, 24 tries)
Chicka just scored tries out of nothing and anyone who saw him dance around Dane O’Hara to score at Wembley in 1985 will testify to that. Ferguson was a sensational winger who scored the most unbelievable tries and I don’t think the game has seen his like since.
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