Following yesterday’s ‘toughest Super League players of all time‘ feature, the latest in our ‘top five’ series features what we believe are the five greatest overseas players to have featured in Super League down the years.
Since 1996, clubs have brought in many players, mostly from Australia, to try improve their squad and included in this are some of the greatest players the Kangaroos and Kiwis have ever produced.
So having done plenty of research and much deliberation, we have landed on who we think are the five best overseas players to ever play in Super League over the competition’s 27-year history.
5. Henry Paul
Taking fifth spot is Henry Paul, who just edged out the likes of his brother, Robbie, and several others including Trent Barrett and Adrian Vowles to take position in our list. The mercurial stand-off was unplayable on his day and won an unprecedented amount of silverware for both Wigan and Bradford. Henry spent 16 seasons in England after arriving at Wakefield Trinity in 1993. His form there earned him a move to Wigan in 1994 where he played a key role in the inaugural Super League Grand Final victory over Leeds Rhinos. The Kiwi playmaker saved his best for the big matches and went on to win both the Harry Sunderland Award and Lance Todd Trophy during his time with the Bradford Bulls.
4. Pat Richards
Up next is Pat Richards who after a shaky start at Wigan, became a huge favourite at the DW Stadium. The goal-kicking winger amassed a staggering 2,468 points during a sensational eight-year spell with the Warriors as he became known for his agility and vision. The towering Australian was an expert finisher, unbeatable in the air and possessed arguably the biggest boot Super League has seen. He enjoyed many standout years at Wigan, with the 2010 season a particular highlight as he was deservedly named Man of Steel after the Cherry and Whites stormed to the Super League title beating arch-rivals St Helens at Old Trafford.
3. Thomas Leuluai
Only just retired, Thomas Leuluai aged like a fine wine. He arrived in England after signing with London Broncos in 2005, where he impressed enough to earn a move to his beloved Wigan in 2007. The Kiwi playmaker had all the key attributes a half needs, with the added bonus of some huge defeinsive hits on players almost twice his size down the years. Leuluai makes this list not only because of his ability, but also his consistency and longevity at the very top of Super League. He has played a key role in helping Wigan win their fair share of silverware over the last decade, amassing 327 appearances in cherry and white. Inluded in that long list of games is Leuluai’s Harry Sunderland award-winning performance in the 2010 Super League Grand Final as he helped the Warriors beat St Helens.
2. Jamie Lyon
Next up is a man still talked about at St Helens today. Jamie Lyon’s impact on Super League was quite staggering when you consider he was only here for two seasons. The maverick centre won the 2005 Man of Steel award and played a major part in helping Saints win the treble in 2006. He ended his time on English shores with 46 tries, 202 goals and 586 points from only 63 appearances. Lyon was truly a world class player who has achieved greatness on both sides of the world, and his at Saints was a joy to behold. Super League got to witness one of the greatest rugby league stars of the last two decades in his absolute prime for two superb seasons, something that rarely happens these days with most overseas players arriving at the end of their careers.
1. Lesley Vainikolo
Talking of impact, Lesley Vainikolo is number one on this list as he edges out Lyon due to a more sustained spell of brilliance in Super League. ‘The volcano’ signed for Bradford in 2002 and lived up to his nickname with an explosive six-year stint in Super League that saw him chalk up some incredible numbers. The powerhouse winger scored 150 tries in 152 games for the Bulls and was dangerous from anywhere on the pitch – becoming the most feared player in Super League. Vainikolo was a cult hero of the competition during the early noughties and helped Bradford win every prize on offer, including the treble in 2003 and two World Club Challenge titles in 2004 and 2006. He also made the Super League Dream Team and was the competition’s top try-scorer on multiple occasions, bowing out in 2007 after chalking up 600 points during his time at Odsal.