Whether it’s physically or metaphorically, toughness is an attribute that could be associated with almost every Super League player since the competition began in 1996.
However, there are some that stand out more than others and we have taken on the unenviable task of naming the 10 toughest players in Super League’s history.
It was, of course, hard to narrow it down to 10, so we give special mentions to Rob Burrow, Keith Senior, Michael McIlorum and Steve Prescott who just missed out on the list.
10. Thomas Leuluai
Without doubt the hardest hitting halfback in 25 years of Super League, Leuluai has put many an 18-stone prop on his back. Taking the statement ‘punching above your weight’ to an all new level, opposition forwards have often chosen to avoid the little Kiwi given his destructive defence. ‘Tommy’ has shed plenty of claret throughout his career, but remains undeterred and will continue to do so until he retires.
9. James Graham
This man will literally do anything and everything to win. Although he has played a good part of his career in the NRL, Graham was a mainstay in the Saints team during the early days. He brought a new dimension to the role of a front-rower, playing 80 minutes with more carries and tackles than any other player. Determined, durable and relentless, Graham defines tough in many ways.
8. Barrie McDermott
“Baz is gonna get ya” would be chanted almost every match from the South Stand at Headingley. ‘Big Barrie’ was not a player to get on the wrong side of and he would seemingly always have a running battle with a prop on the opposing team. No-nonsense, uncompressing and just generally a scary bloke, McDermott was willing to take in any ball, back up all his teammates and would leave blood, sweat and tears out on the pitch.
7. Stuart Fielden
Burst onto the Super League scene as an 18-year-old during the glory years at Bradford. Fielden more than matched it with the biggest forwards in the game and was selected for Great Britain at 21. His relentless hit ups and fearless nature gave him a huge reputation, leading to Wigan signing him for a world record transfer fee in 2006.
6. Sean O’Loughlin
Throughout his two decades in Super League, O’Loughlin has shown toughness in many ways. His stature alone is enough to strike fear into opponents, with many Wigan players down the years admitting they feel almost unbeatable when he leads the team out. Both psychically and mentally strong, ‘Lockers’ is a dominant figure and has consistently set the example for his teammates to follow.
5. Gareth Ellis
Still producing the goods now at the age of 38, Ellis has proved himself in both Super League and the NRL. Lee Radford says you can hear his hits from the stands, a statement many players and supporters can still vouch for now. Making almost unrivalled post-contact metres throughout his career, Ellis is the ultimate professional and is the perfect rugby league role model.
4. Paul Sculthorpe
The former Great Britain captain was as tough as they come. He led front the front for well over a decade at St Helens, helping them win multiple honours while picking up many individual accolades in the process. One of only three men to win the Man of Steel award more than once, ‘Scully’ was made of granite and dominated many an Australian forward at international level.
3. Adrian Morley
‘Moz’ was the most feared player in rugby league for some time. The early days at Leeds saw him mix it with the best Super League had to offer, getting in his fair share of scrapes. His six-year stint in the NRL made him revered by the Aussies, before returning home to become a legend at Warrington. Always the ‘first man in’, Morley was oblivious to danger and perhaps careless for his own safety at times, but it meant he was willing to do anything for the team and that’s a trait you can’t buy.
2. Jamie Peacock
Quite simply hard as nails. For almost two decades Peacock was unplayable and would give the opposition nightmares with his unrelenting nature. He was ceaseless and went out and played every game like it was his last, setting a fine example for his teammates, whether that was for Bradford, Leeds or England. ‘JP’ was a born winner, ending his trophy-laden career as Super League’s most successful ever player.
1. Andy Farrell
The ultimate Man of Steel in many people’s eyes. ‘Faz’ really did have it all and possessed strength, courage and leadership in abundance. The former Great Britain captain’s consistency could be matched by few and his ability to produce his best in pressure situations highlighted his mental toughness. His physicality often came to the fore too as he was prepared to do the ugly side of the game despite his class. Farrell wore his heart on his sleeve and, in many instances, a bandage around his nose. A true warrior and deserving of this ‘toughest player’ title.