We’ve all, quite rightly, cast praise the way of Kevin Sinfield, James Roby, Paul Sculthorpe and Andy Farrell over the years.
These players are the ones most consider legends of Super League and the greatest heroes the competition has ever seen in its 26-year long history.
But there are plenty of players considered unsung heroes. Pillars of Super League sides who were never truly given the credit they deserved. Well today we’re giving them some well-deserved praise as we give you 10 of Super League’s biggest unsung heroes.
When people have praised the St Helens team who have dominated the league over the last four seasons they often jump towards skipper James Roby, the brilliant Jonny Lomax and top class fullback Lachlan Coote as well as their brilliant forward pack often overlooking the brilliant Theo Fages. The decision to anoint him Lomax’s permanent partner in 2019 gave the Saints an extra edge which took them to Grand Final glory after it alluded them the year before as the Frenchman perfectly complimented Lomax helping guide St Helens to two Grand Final wins and a Challenge Cup success in 2021 before injury ended his time at the Totally Wicked Stadium prematurely. Now set to be a key player for Huddersfield, we’ll see just how key he was to St Helens in his absence although Lewis Dodd looks like a capable replacement.
When Leeds finally ended their 32-year wait for a title in 2004, Matt Diskin was at the heart of it. Not only did he score in a Man of the Match performance at Old Trafford but he shone throughout the campaign rivalling 39-try Danny McGuire when it came to deciding on Leeds’ best player that season. His form earnt him a place in the Dream Team and in the Great Britain side however an injury stifled his momentum. However, he would go on to be a key yet underrated part of the Leeds side who won three consecutive titles from 2007-09 scoring in the 2009 decider having had to battle with former Australia skipper Danny Buderus for the starting number nine role.
A Grand Final winner with St Helens in 2002 and the perfect foil to Kerion Cunningham, Higham was making waves at Knowsley Road before he decided he didn’t want to play second fiddle to Cunningham anymore resulting in a move to Wigan via Bradford whom he never played for. In 2009, he would then join Warrington having led Wigan to back-to-back Grand Final eliminators. At Warrington he would become a key part of the side who won three Challenge Cups and a League Leaders’ Shield over the next four seasons but was often not given the recognition due to the performances of Lee Briers and Michael Monaghan despite often being one of the Wolves’ best players.
A two-time Grand Final winner, a three-time Challenge Cup winner, part of the treble winning side of 2015 and scorer of nine major final tries in just five major final appearances, Tom Briscoe’s Leeds career has plenty of highlights starting from his debut hat-trick against Hull KR all the way up until he scored in the 2020 Challenge Cup Final win. One of the best at kick returns in the league as well as a great generator of ruck speed at the start of sets, he alongside Ryan Hall and Zak Hardaker formed arguably Super League’s best ever back three but he very rarely received the praise he deserved. Turning to 2015, not only did he score a record breaking five tries in a Challenge Cup Final, but his try at Huddersfield started Leeds’ famous comeback as they claimed the League Leaders’ Shield and in the Grand Final he was key to a magnificent Danny McGuire try. A key part of Leeds’ most successful season as well as central to them avoiding relegation in 2018 finishing the season as their top scorer, he should be remembered fondly by those at Headingley when his time as a Rhino comes to an end.
From one Leeds winger to another, Scott Donald very rarely received the praise he deserved during his playing days and even less so now. A try scoring machine in 2007 and 2008, he was Leeds’ top scorer in the latter campaign having scored one of the greatest Grand Final tries of all time in the 2007 decider before crossing in the World Club Challenge win over Melbourne in 2008. That season also saw him score what Gary Hetherington described as the greatest try Headingley has ever seen against Hull FC and in 2009 he was again part of Leeds’ try of the season when he broke down the right wing before a huge kick was inch perfect for McGuire to score in the semi-final win over Catalans. A mesmerising winger, a try scorer and a winner – after all he was a key part of Leeds’ three Super League titles in a row – he is an underappreciated star of that Leeds side.
Soliola will be remembered fondly at St Helens for decades to come thanks his crucial Grand Final try against Wigan as the Saints went on to claim a sixth Super League crown ending an eight year wait for success. However, he never received the credit he deserved for his consistently top-notch performances in Super League as he established himself as one of the league’s best backrowers over a five-season span in which he played in three Grand Finals.
The 2010 season was arguably the most important in Wigan’s Super League history as they ended a 12-year wait for Grand Final glory, a drought unheard of in the final days of winter rugby. The players drafted into the club to oversee their transformation from struggling in 2005-07 to Champions in 2010 deserve credit and none more so than George Carmont. A classy centre, he helped Wigan to that Grand Final triumph at the expense of St Helens before an exceptional season in 2011 saw him named in the Dream Team on the back of a stunning World Club Challenge performance against St George Illawarra Dragons albeit in defeat. In 2012, he continued to impress scoring a play-off hat-trick against Catalans in one of his final games as a Warrior having once again been named in the Dream Team. Clearly a star and one of the top Super League centres of this period, he rarely received the credit his five Super League seasons deserve and is often overlooked when people turn back the clock to commend that Wigan side.
From one Wigan player to another, Liam Farrell was one of the bedrocks of the most successful Wigan side of the summer era as the Cherry and Whites, under the leadership of skipper Sean O’Loughlin, won four Super League titles in nine seasons including their double triumph in 2013. Farrell was key to every single one of them too especially in 2016 when he put in a Man of the Match display at Old Trafford to down Warrington. Even in the last few seasons we’ve seen his quality as he’s proven to be one of the best second-rowers in the league despite reaching the twilight of his career. Despite all of this, he’s very rarely talked about when it comes to Super League’s best backrowers.
Speaking of top notch backrowers who don’t receive the credit they deserve, Carl Ablett is Super League’s joint third most successful player with seven Super League titles which leaves him on par with Kevin Sinfield and Jamie Jones-Buchanan and above the likes of James Roby and Sean O’Loughlin. More so than that, he was key to these title wins as well scoring in both the 2011 and 2012 Grand Finals. The 2011 try came off the back of a try in the semi-final win over Warrington whilst in 2012 he produced a remarkable Old Trafford performance with two assists to compliment his try whilst playing out of position which he also did in 2011 and 2008. A scorer at Wembley and in Leeds’ World Club Challenge success in 2012, he was consistently great for Leeds whether at centre or second-row and was part of the hard-working backrow which Brian McDermott built the treble winning Leeds side around in 2015. But due to the calibre of players in that side, his quality is sometimes overlooked especially when the men who wore the squad numbers directly above and below him were the aforementioned Sinfield and Buchanan.
The pinnacle of rugby league is winning the treble. Thus, the three greatest Super League sides are often said to have been the Leeds Rhinos in 2015, St Helens in 2006 and Bradford Bulls in 2003. To figure in two of those three sides and be a key part of their success should make you one of Super League’s all-time greats and Jamie Peacock and Leon Pryce are both considered as such. But Paul Anderson, who can also boast about winning the treble twice, is often overlooked when it comes to discussing the finest props in Super League history. ‘Baloo’ as he was referred to by the Bradford supporters helped form the most devastating pack in Super League history helping propel the Bulls to Super League title after Super League title culminating in the treble triumph of 2003. In 2005, he joined St Helens as they looked to get back on top after a couple of years in the wilderness. His arrival gave St Helens something extra down the middle helping them finish top in 2005 before they also achieved the clean sweep in 2006. Anderson was again key due to the experience and physicality he offered down the middle of the field making him a Super League legend in my book.