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Ranked: The 10 biggest transfers in Super League history

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Transfer talk is currently dominating the headlines, as players across Super League begin to pen new deals for next season. 

The headline signing for 2025 so far is Leigh Leopards captain John Asiata joining the Richie Myler show at Hull FC on a three-year-deal. Elsewhere, Mike McMeeken and Tom Johnstone have returned to West Yorkshire to join Wakefield Trinity in 2025. But these won’t be the only big names joining new clubs next season.

Names like Luke Yates, Zak Hardaker, and Konrad Hurrell are all being linked with moves away from their clubs. NRL stars such as Dallin Watene-Zelezniak and Jack de Belin are also being lined up for blockbuster moves.

With the transfer market kicking into full swing, it it the perfect moment to reflect on some of the biggest transfers in Super League history.

Some of the all time greats have graced Super League over the past 30 years. Here are the 10 biggest signings in Super League history.

Ranking the 10 biggest signings in Super League history

10. Danny Buderus (Newcastle Knights – Leeds Rhinos, 2009)

Leeds Rhinos

Credit: Imago Images

The first part of Leeds Rhinos’ Golden Generation was shaped by a core of home-grown players, who were supplemented by star signings. Hooker, Matt Diskin, had been a key part of the Rhinos side in the early 00s, however, Leeds were about to sign one of the greatest to play the game in his position.

Danny Buderus is one of the greats of the NRL era of Australian Rugby League. Prior to joining Leeds, he had made 220 appearances for the Newcastle Knights, scoring 58 tries. He won the 2004 Dally M award for best player in the NRL, alongside three Dally M Hooker of the Year trophies. He also represented New South Wales 21 times in State of Origin and won 24 caps for Australia. He was part of the Leeds Rhinos side which won the 2011 Grand Final, and played a key part in their success that season.

Following a request from Wayne Bennett, Buderus was released from the final year of his Leeds contract. He returned to the Knights to end his career. He remains one of the biggest names in Australian Rugby League, and one of the Super League’s biggest signings.

9. Paul Sculthorpe (Warrington Wolves – St Helens, 1998)

Paul Sculthorpe

Paul Sculthorpe was one of the stars of Super League’s early days, and earned a big reputation at Warrington, where he started his career. Sculthorpe was named in the inaugural Super League Dream Team in 1996. He was also selected as part of the Great British Lions tour of Oceania at the end of that season.

St Helens were keen admirers of Sculthorpe, and would break the bank to secure his services. The Red Vee paid a transfer fee of £375,000 to sign Sculthorpe in 1997. He proved to be worth every penny of the fee paid in a stellar career on Merseyside.

He made an impressive 261 appearances for the club. Sculthorpe helped guide Saints to four Super League titles, five Challenge Cups and two World Club Challenge titles in his 10 year spell.

He also became the first player to ever win two back-to-back Man of Steel awards in 2001 and 2002 respectively.

8. Jamie Peacock (Bradford Bulls – Leeds Rhinos, 2006)

Leeds Rhinos

The rivalry between the Leeds Rhinos and the Bradford Bulls defined the early 00’s in Super League. The two West Yorkshire clubs had some of the biggest clashes on the era. They regularly faced off in Challenge Cup finals and Super League Grand Finals on a regular basis. Bradford and Great Britain captain, Jamie Peacock, embodied the Bradford Bulls side at the time.

He lifted the 2005 Grand Final trophy, after the Bulls beat the Rhinos in the Old Trafford showpiece. However, Peacock would pull on a Rhinos jersey the following season, having crossed the divide.

Leeds-born Peacock would go on to be one of the greatest signings in Rhinos history. He was a key part of the Golden Generation alongside players such as Kevin Sinfield, Danny McGuire and Rob Burrow. His departure was also the first sign of things starting to unravel at Bradford, who would never reach the highs of 2005 again. There have been few bigger moves that Peacock’s transfer to the Rhinos.

7. Sonny Bill Williams (Sydney Roosters – Toronto Wolfpack, 2020)

Sonny Bill Williams Toronto

Credit: Imago Images

If this was a list of the most successful transfers in Super League, then this one may rank somewhere near the bottom of the list. However, given the size of Sonny Bill Williams’ reputation, it is impossible to omit his from this list.

Dual-code megastar Sonny Bill William’s move to Toronto Wolfpack was a huge transfer. Sonny Bill was one of the biggest names in world rugby at the time. He was the first player to win the Rugby Union World Cup with All Blacks after playing Rugby League. He won the Rugby League International Federation’s Player of the Year award in 2013. Williams won multiple NRL titles.

He joined Toronto ahead of the 2020 Super League season, having recently been part of the All Blacks squad which finished third in the Rugby Union World Cup. The signing was a huge statement of intent from the Wolfpack, who were aiming to cement their place in Super League.

However, any chances of the deal succeeding when COVID-19 struck, and the Wolfpack folded due to financial difficulties. It was a case of what might have been, as Sonny Bill was never able to make a mark on Super League.

6. Jamie Lyon (Parramatta Eels – St Helens, 2005)

Jamie Lyon wins Super League

Jamie Lyon is another NRL star who came to Super League at the peak of his powers. “Killer” Lyon joined St Helens in 2005, having spent four years with the Parramatta Eeels. Lyon became the youngest ever Kangaroo tourist, when he travelled to the U.K. with the victorious 2001 Australian side.  However, Lyon controversially announced his retirement in 2004, whilst playing for the Eels at the age of just 22.

Lyon made a tentative return to Rugby, playing for his junior side Wee Waa Panthers. However, he remained locked in a contractual dispute, with the remaining two years on his contract with the Eels. St Helens capitalised on the dispute, paying 150,000 AUD to clear Lyon of his existing contract, and a reported salary of 600,000 AUD over two seasons.

Lyon was a huge success with Saints, winning Man of Steel in his first season, becoming only the fourth non-English player to win the end of season award. He won a Grand Final and Challenge Cup double with the Saints in 2006, before returning to the NRL with the Manly Sea Eagles. He represented New South Wales 10 times in State of Origin and won eight caps for Australia.

5. Sean Long (Widnes Vikings – St Helens, 1997)

Paul Wellens Sean Long celebrate winning Super League

Mercurially gifted half-back, Sean Long, started his career with Wigan Warriors, before moving to Widnes Vikings in 1997. He played just nine times for Widnes, however it was clear that Long was a special talent. St Helens were so enamoured with Long that they paid £80,000 to sign him. Long went on to become an iconic figure for the club.

During his 12 year career with the Saints, Long made 343 appearances in all competitions, scoring 156 tries and 989 goals. He won 14 caps for Great Britain and was part of the last British touring side to win a match on Australian soil in 2006.

Long won four Super League titles, six Challenge Cups and two World Club Challenges in the famous Red Vee.

On a personal note, he won three Lance Todd trophies and one Man of Steel.

4. Stuart Fielden (Bradford Bulls – Wigan Warriors, 2006)

Stuart Fielden

In the early-00s, the Bradford Bulls were Super League’s dominant force. Stuart Fielden was their feared forward pack’s enforcer, and arguably, the best prop in the world at the time.

However, by 2006, the Bulls were beginning to suffer financial difficulties, and their era of success was coming to an end. Brian Noble, the head coach who had overseen their era of success, left the club mid-way through the 2006 season to join Wigan Warriors. Wigan were in a period of turmoil and in real danger of being relegated. Noble was given the task of turning their fortunes around.

Noble identified Fielden as a key part of their bid for success. Wigan then smashed the world transfer record to lure Fielden across the Pennines. The transfer fee of £450,000 paid to Bradford remains the biggest fee paid by a Super League side.

Fielden and Noble were able to save the Warriors from relegation. Fielden would go on to win a Grand Final with the club in 2010, the third Grand Final win of his career. However, his move is remains controversial. Wigan received a points deduction for a salary cap breach, and faced allegations of cheating to remain in Super League. The club were eventually docked four competition points for the breach.

However, due to the size of the fee involved and Fielden’s reputation at the time, it remains one of Super League’s biggest transfers.

3. Ali Lauiti’iti (New Zealand Warriors – Leeds Rhinos, 2004)

Leeds Rhinos

Credit: Imago Images

Michael Jordan is arguably the biggest name in sport. When Ali Lauiti’iti left the New Zealand Warriors, it sparked one of the biggest transfer frenzies in history. Multiple clubs attempted to secure the services of the man known as the “Michael Jordan of Rugby League”. The Rhinos pulled off a huge coup in securing Lauiti’iti on a two and a half year deal. Leeds reportedly beat off competition from 14 other clubs in Europe and Australia to complete the deal.

Lauiti’iti made a huge impact for the Rhinos, winning five Super League Grand Finals and a World Club Challenge. He was named in the Super League Dream Team twice, and made 19 appearances for New Zealand in a glittering career.

Leeds have welcomed some of Super League’s biggest overseas players over the years. However Lauiti’iti is arguably the biggest of them all.

2. Trent Barrett (St. George Illawarra – Wigan Warriors, 2007)

Trent Barrett Wigan Warriors Super League

Credit: Imago Images

When Trent Barrett joined Wigan Warriors in 2007, he was still at the top of his game. Barrett was a New South Wales regular in State of Origin and won the NRL player of the season in 2000, with St George Illawarra.

As Captain of the Dragons, he was a huge name in Rugby League. He won 15 caps for Australia and was part of the famous 2001 Kangaroo tour to England. However, he also suffered moments of controversy, such as when he was banned for six games due to a striking charge for an incident with Brian Carney. Despite having two years left on his deal at St George, he used a release clause to allow him to move to Super League.

Barrett made an immediate impact after his move to Wigan. In his first season, he won the Rugby League Player’s Player of the Year, and narrowly missed out on the Man of Steel award to James Roby. He helped Wigan avoid relegation, which looked a real possibility before his arrival. He returned to the NRL after two years in Super League, ending his career with the Cronulla Sharks.

Barrett has moved into coaching, following retirement, and is the current interim coach at the Parramatta Eels.

1. Andrew Johns (Newcastle Knights – Warrington Wolves, 2005)

Andrew Johns

Andrew “Joey” Johns is one of the greatest players in Rugby League’s modern era. Johns is one of only four players to have won the Golden Boot on more than one occasion. He has won the Dally M Medal for best player in the NRL three times, and was named the eighth ‘Immortal’ of Australian Rugby League in 2012. He won 26 caps for the green and golds, along with making 23 appearances in State of Origin for New South Wales.

Johns shocked the Rugby League world at the end of the 2005 season, by announcing he would join the Warrington Wolves on a short-term deal. Johns was still at the height of his powers. He was only permitted to take up the offer, after agreeing a contract extension with the Newcastle Knights to the end of 2008. He had recently guided New South Wales to a series win in State of Origin.

Johns only played three times for Warrington, scoring one try and kicking 12 goals. However, in terms of reputation, ability and profile in the game, the ‘Immortal’ Andrew Johns is Super League’s biggest signing.

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