5 Best Players in Rugby League History
Rugby League has been played professionally in Australia since 1908 and is one of Australia’s favourite sports still to this day.
There have been countless great players over the years and many still debate over; who are the best players of all time?
While researching every possible player to include, the selection criteria has been thoroughly thought out, these deserving players dominated at every level of the game.
Here is the list from 1-5.
- Wally Lewis
Dubbed the ‘King’ for a reason and rightfully the Greatest of all Time (GOAT), Wally Lewis is the greatest player to ever play the game of rugby league.
Inducted as an “Immortal” of the game in 1999, the games highest honour, Lewis has a bronze statue outside of Lang Park in Brisbane, as he is worshipped in Queensland for what he has done for the game in the state.
The five-eight played in 34 Origin matches and captained the side for 30 of those games between 1980-1991, he picked up eight Man of the Match awards and helped the ‘Maroons’ win 9 series in that time.
He was so good for Queensland, they have named the award for their respective player of the series after him.
The ‘King’ dominated Brisbane club football but was good without being brilliant when the Broncos entered the then NSWRL in 1988.
Lewis had already cemented his legacy as the GOAT and has picked a number of awards including three Dally M Representative Player of the Year awards in 1982, ‘84 and ’88.
- Mal Meninga
The Canberra Raiders were the first club ever out of Sydney to win a premiership and a lot of that has to do with Mal Meninga.
A barnstorming centre and proud Queenslander, Meninga was picked up by the Raiders in 1986 from English club St Helens, and the rest is history.
Meninga captained Canberra to three premierships from 1989-1994 and he finished as a runner up on two occasions in 1987 and 1991 respectively.
Meninga was also influential both for state and country. He captained both Queensland and Australia where he led both teams to a wealth of success.
Currently, Meninga is coaching the Australian Kangaroos and holds an off-field position with the Gold Coast Titans. Meninga has a statue outside of GIO Stadium in Canberra and is still regarded as the greatest Raider of all time, a true pioneer for Canberra Rugby League.
- Jonathan Thurston
Being warned he was too skinny to make it and he will never progress in the game of rugby league; Jonathan Thurston has silenced his critics throughout his whole career.
Thurston made his debut for the Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs in 2002. He won a premiership with them playing in a utility role off the bench in 2004, before making a move to the North Queensland Cowboys in 2005.
Thurston made an immediate impact in Townsville. He won the Dally M award for Player of the Year and took the Cowboys to their first grand final, only to fall to the Wests Tigers.
The greatest ever halfback to play the game went on to have a stellar career. He won the Dally M Medal on four occasions, represented Queensland 37 times, where he was a part of the historic Queensland side who won the series 9 times in a row and represented Australia 38 times.
Perhaps the highlight of Thurston’s career was winning the premiership with the Cowboys in 2015, where he kicked the winning field goal and won the Clive Churchill Medal for best on ground.
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- Andrew Johns
Andrew ‘Joey’ Johns followed his brother Matthew into the Newcastle Knights first grade side in 1993, and is now an Immortal. That’s a pretty good indication of how his career went.
Johns is the best player NSW has ever produced and probably the ‘smartest’ halfback to ever live. His vision and kicking game were the reason for his success during his illustrious career.
Johns bought Newcastle two premierships in 1997 and 2001 and has won numerous of individual awards such as the Dally M Medal on three occasions and the ‘Golden Boot’ for the best player in the world in 1999 and 2001.
Joey represented Australia and NSW 23 times each. He was instrumental for NSW during their period of success in the late 90’s and early 2000’s.
John’s career was ultimately cut short in 2007 due to a chronic neck injury, but he will always be highly regarded as the Knights and NSW’s best ever player.
- Cameron Smith
The greatest hooker to ever play the game and an iconic member of the Melbourne Storm’s ‘Big Three’, Cameron Smith is a legend in every sense of the word.
In 2019, Cameron Smith became the first-ever player to play 400 NRL first grade games and holds the record for the most NRL points, surpassing Hazem El Masri in 2019.
Smith has won four premierships (2007 and 2009 premierships stripped), two Dally M Medals, two Golden Boots and the Wally Lewis Medal for QLD player of the year four times.
Smith holds the record the most appearances for the Kangaroos and QLD Maroons respectively and has bought both teams a plethora of success.
The only player still playing on the list, it is a credit to how good the tenacious hooker is and will be remembered as one of the greatest players of all time when the curtain falls on his remarkable career.
The game has had so many superstars over the years who have just made the cut and there are potential greats still running around in the NRL today.