This week, world class English halfback George Williams was shockingly given an immediate release from his contract at Canberra Raiders. Williams desired a move back home at the end of this season due to home sickness but, in a shocking turn of events, he’s been shown the door and is headed back to Super League immediately.
It got us thinking about the very best players to have given the NRL a fair crack before coming back to Super League. So, today we’re ranking the five best players to return to Super League having starred in the NRL.
In doing so we’ll be taking into account their performances down under as well as how well they performed following their return to Super League.
5. John Bateman
Upon arriving at Canberra in 2019, Bateman took the NRL by storm. His physical, hard-working and no-nonsense approach raised plenty of eyebrows and even saw him named Dally M second-row of the year after a brilliant debut campaign for the Raiders. He even took the green machine to the NRL Grand Final where they were unlucky to lose. In 2020 Bateman continued to impress although injuries and a desire to return home derailed his season somewhat. In the end Bateman left Canberra and returned to Wigan ahead of this season. It’s been so far so good for Bateman. Yes, he’s not yet hit his best form but he’s been continually solid for a Wigan side who were unbeaten in the league until yesterday. Granted, Bateman wasn’t brilliant in the defeat to Catalans but his quality is undoubted.
4. Sam Tomkins
Another man who left Wigan for the NRL, Tomkins had been Super League’s super star since bursting onto the scene in 2009. He slowly evolved into an electric fullback and Super League’s best player. Ultimately, he earned a pricey move to the NRL with New Zealand Warriors. He perhaps didn’t catch the eye as much as Bateman did but still scored 14 tries in 37 games and was certainly an attacking weapon for the Warriors. It’s his underrated return to Super League that sees him above Bateman in this list however. Unsurprisingly, he went straight back to Wigan where he continued to be an exhilarating attacking threat out the back. He helped Wigan to two more Super League titles in 2016 and 2018 before leaving to Catalans where he’s matured. He’s a different and much smarter player to the one who scored tries for fun at Wigan. However, with 12 Man of Steel points this season and nine try assists, it’s clear he’s still brilliant.
3. James Graham
After cementing himself as one of Super League’s finest props and playing in six consecutive Grand Finals with St Helens, Graham joined Canterbury to test himself in the NRL. He made an instant impact with the Bulldogs helping them to the Grand Final. Two years later he was back in the decider taking on fellow Englishman Sam Burgess in a brilliant contest. He gained a reputation as one of the competition’s best props and continued to impress at St George. Last year he made a mid-season switch back to St Helens. Although it was a brief stint at the end of his career, he was still magnificent pairing his brutality with a ball-playing ability not commonly seen in props. He lessened the blow of losing Luke Thompson and guided the Saints to the Super League trophy.
2. Gareth Ellis
Gareth Ellis’ time in the NRL is criminally underrated. After winning back-to-back Grand Finals with Leeds, Ellis was snapped up by Wests Tigers. In his time at Wests, he was named their player of the year on multiple occasions as they became a mainstay in the play-offs. Liam Fulton described him as the best forward he’d ever played with whilst coach Tim Sheens described him as the “the best buy this club has had.” At the end of 2012, he returned to Super League with Hull FC and soon enough was appointed their captain and arguably became their finest ever Super League skipper as he took the club to consecutive top four finishes and more notably back-to-back Challenge Cup wins. He retired in 2017 but couldn’t stay away and continued to be an important player for Hull until the end of last year.
1. Adrian Morley
After bursting onto the scene at Leeds, the brilliant second-rower was brought to Sydney Roosters and made an instant impact in his first season as he guided them to their first Premiership in 27 years. He’d play in two more NRL Grand Finals with the Roosters as he gained a reputation for being one of the biggest, strongest and most brutal players in the game slowly transitioning to prop. In 2007, Warrington paid big money to bring Morley back to Super League and he slowly turned the Wolves into a serious challenger. He captained them in two Grand Finals and won three Challenges Cups at the Halliwell Jones before retiring with boyhood club Salford.