Super League’s top five toughest players of all time

Every rugby league player is tough, but throughout the 25 years of Super League there are a certain few that come to mind when thinking about those that go over and beyond for their team.

Unsurprisingly, it’s normally forwards that dominate the ‘tough’ category, with the battle down the middle almost always the most brutal area of a rugby league field as speed and agility meets strength and power.

With all things considered, we have carefully deliberated and run through all the players that have competed since the first Super League season in 1996 and come up with who we think are the competition’s top five toughest players of all time.

5. Gareth Ellis

Taking the number five slot is Gareth Ellis. There were perhaps some more obvious players for this position – with James Graham, Sam Burgess, Barrie McDermortt, Sean O’Loughlin and Stuart Fielden – but Ellis was a warrior in Super League and the NRL for two decades. Though also a great player, Ellis’ toughness was always noted by players who played against as he became known as one of the hardest hitters in the game on both sides of the world. A model professional throughout his whole career, Ellis broke through with Wakefield before a big move to Leeds allowed him to become a huge part of their golden generation. He then went Down Under to join Wests Tigers, with the Aussies loving his no-nonsense style as he won the club’s Player of the Year award three years running. ‘Gaz’ then returned to Super League to help Hull FC end their Wembley hoodoo and continued to make huge metres and produce bone-shattering big hits, despite his aging years. Respected hugely by his peers, Ellis is undoubtedly one of the toughest guys we have seen in Super League and he even came out of retirement at 37 to help Hull for another 18 months before eventually hanging up his boots.

4. Adrian Morley

Though Adrian Morley arguably spent his best years in the NRL, his time in Super League during his early and latter years underlined him as one of the toughest players in rugby league history. A dominant forward, ‘Moz’ is a legend of the sport and was the leader of the Leeds Rhinos’ pack for five years in his younger years before making the move Down Under, where the Aussies looked to target the new pommie. However, Morley didn’t just hold his own in the NRL, he became one of the competitions’ stand-out players and a household name, with his fearsome reputation well deserved after owning almost every opposition forward he came up against. He then returned to Super League in 2005 and had success with both Bradford and Warrington, before ending his playing days at hometown club Salford. Morley never lost his aggression or power throughout an incredible career and retired as one of the sports iconic names in 2015.

3. Paul Sculthorpe

Paul Sculthorpe enjoyed a trophy-laden career and was the leader of a dominant St Helens team through the late 90’s and early noughties. The two-time Man of Steel winner epitomised everything you would want from your captain and would never leave anything out on the field. He played 30 times for his country and in 2001 put in one of the greatest performances of any Great Britain forward in the first test victory against Australia. Sculthorpe, who also possessed superb skill and speed, was an exceptional all-round rugby league player. His toughness though was what stood out to many, with very few players managing to get the better of ‘Scully’, especially in his prime, with his relentless battles against international team-mate and Wigan captain Andy Farrell a particular highlight throughout the late nineties and early noughties.

2. Andy Farrell

In truth, the top three players in this list could have gone in any order but it is Wigan and Great Britain legend Andy Farrell coming in at number two. This man defines the word tough, amassing well over 3,000 points in a glittering career. The goal-kicking loose forward was a natural born leader and in 1996 was named Great Britain’s youngest ever captain at just 21 – winning Super League’s Man Of Steel award later that year. Farrell was not only strong and durable, but he possessed superb natural skill and was one of the most talented players in the game for just short of two decades. The images of ‘Faz’ carrying on in many matches with a broken nose or some sort of injury are what many people remember about the early days of Super League, with the Wigan skipper the face of the competition and rugby league in the UK during that period. We have seen very few players have all the combined attributes of Farrell since he retired, with his toughness rivalled by very few players too.

1. Jamie Peacock

The one player we do feel can rival Andy Farrell for toughness is Jamie Peacock. Peacock is Super League’s most successful player and a legend of the competition. A major part of the glory days at Bradford Bulls and Leeds Rhinos, ‘JP’ consistently played at the top of his game in one of the toughest sports for two decades. Durable, resilient and at times unstoppable, the 2003 Man of Steel was frighteningly strong and many will never forget the way he floored Willie Mason in the 2006 Tri-Nations. Peacock came out of retirement to try save Hull KR in 2016 and again put his body on the line and led by example, albeit in vein as the Robins were relegated. He will be remembered for his time in West Yorkshire though as he put his body on the line week in week out to help both the Bradford and Leeds dominate Super League in seperate periods, showing a robotic ability to consistently play at the very top of the sport, never take a backwards step and lead from the front week in week out. In an astonishing career, Peacock played well over 500 games for club and country and it’s unlikely we will ever see his like again.

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