Connect with us

Super League

The five best Super League players ever signed from Championship clubs

Super League

The received wisdom suggests that there is only one way for young players to make it into the Super League. Players break into a first-team squad, after coming through the academy.

However, this is not always the case, as some of Super League’s best players have taken the road less travelled.

The lower leagues of the English Rugby League system are a brilliant proving ground for young talent. This is highlighted by the number of current Super League players on loan at lower league clubs, with three Hull FC youngsters leaving the club in the last 24 hours.

With the transfer market currently teeming with activity, Super League clubs will be scouring the Championship for the next big name.

In honour of this, we take a look back at some of the biggest names signed from the Championship. All of these players have gone on to achieve huge things since making the switch to the top division.

Alex Walmsley

Super League

Credit: Imago Images

St Helens pulled off a huge coup in 2013 when they signed the Championship’s worst-kept secret. Alex Walmsley had been through a meteoric rise. He joined Batley Bulldogs in 2012, after lighting up the amateur leagues.

In 19 games for the Bulldogs, Walmsley scored seven tries, and it was clear he was destined for bigger things. He was soon on the radar of Super League clubs, with a scramble to secure his services.

Speaking at the time of Walmsley’s move to the Saints, then Batley head coach, John Kear, explained that the Saints had acted most honourably in their pursuit of Walmsley.

“The club that I felt did everything most honourably and did everything by the book was St Helens and I was more than happy to help them.”

Saints have certainly benefited from this, as Walmsley has played nearly 300 games for the club and numerous trophies with the club. He has been the lynchpin of the pack through one of the club’s most successful periods.

He is, undoubtedly, one of the best recruits from the Championship.

Danny Brough

Super League

Credit: Imago Images

At his best, few players have shown the raw kicking ability that Danny Brough showed throughout this career.

Brough started his career with the Dewsbury Rams, where he played 37 times after making his debut in 2002. After requesting a transfer, he moved to the York City Knights, before earning his move to Super League with Hull FC.

Brough shone during his time with FC, appearing 43 times and playing a crucial role in their 2005 Challenge Cup win, in which he kicked four goals and a drop goal.

He left the Black and Whites and, after spells with Castleford Tigers and Wakefield Trinity, before arriving at the Huddersfield Giants, where he played his best rugby.

Brough played just under 250 games for the Giants, scoring 51 tries, kicking 793 goals and 25 drop goals.

He was crucial in the Huddersfield side which won the League Leaders Shield in 2013, with Brough picking up the Man of Steel prize at the end of the season in recognition of his performances.

Brough was named in the 2013 and 2015 Super League Dream Teams. A stellar career rightfully earns him a place on this list.

Zak Hardaker

Zak Hardaker Super League

Credit: Imago Images

Although he is a controversial figure, there can be no doubting Zak Hardaker’s playing ability. When he joined the Leeds Rhinos in 2010, he was known as the hottest property in the Championship.

Hardaker shone during his time with the Rhinos, winning three Super League titles, two Challenge Cups, a League Leaders’ Shield and a World Club Challenge at a time when he was arguably the best full-back in the Super League.

He left the club under something of a cloud, and after a short spell in the NRL, he joined Castleford, where he was a key part in their run to the 2017 League Leaders’ Shield and Grand Final. However, a ban for a failed drug test meant he missed the Grand Final, with Cas losing to the Rhinos.

A move to Wigan followed, where Hardaker won more silverware as the Cherry and Whites lifted the 2020 League Leaders Shield. After a short stint back at Leeds, where he was part of their unsuccessful run to the 2022 Grand Final, he joined the Leigh Leopards.

He was a major part of the Leopards’ 2023 Challenge Cup success and their top four Super League finish. Whilst trouble has tended to follow Hardaker off the field, he has improved every one of his club sides and has been a brilliant pick up from the Championship.

Darren Fleary

Leeds Rhinos

Credit: Imago Images

In the mid-90s Cougarmania was in full swing, with the West Yorkshire side assembling a Super League quality squad in the second tier. In 1995, Keighley on their way to returning to Rugby League’s First Division when the Super League reforms locked them out of the new competition and plummeted them into a financial crisis.

As a result, the Keighley squad was dismantled, with Leeds Rhinos effectively saving the club by signing seven of their first team squad, including Great Britain international, Daryl Powell. However, arguably the best of the lot was fearsome forward, Darren Fleary. Fleary was relatively unknown, having spent the beginning of his career at Dewsbury. However, he became a critical part of the Rhinos side in the early Super League years.

Fleary played 127 games for the Rhinos and was part of the side who lifted the Challenge Cup in 1999. He could have won more with the Rhinos, but they suffered heartbreak in a succession of finals, including the 1998 Grand Final and the 2000 Challenge Cup final at Murrayfield.

Fleary remains fondly remembered at the Rhinos. He was one of the great recruits from the second tier in the early days of Super League.

Tyler Dupree

Tyler Dupree Wigan Warriors

Credit: Imago Images

Although Tyler Dupree started out in the Leeds academy, he left the club without playing a game and looked destined for a career in the lower leagues. Having spent time on loan with Featherstone Rovers, York and Batley Bulldogs, he eventually signed permanent terms with Oldham having left the Rhinos.

Dupree has since revealed that he had lost his love of the game and considered leaving Rugby League to join the army. However, he recaptured his best form at Oldham, earned a move back to Super League with the Salford Red Devils, having spent time with the Widnes Vikings.

Dupree has never looked back. His form at Salford earned him a move to the Wigan Warriors, and he is now part of one Super League’s most feared forward packs. He has earned an England call up, won a Grand Final and was part of the side that won the World Club Challenge earlier this year.

This is admittedly a pick with one eye on the future, with Dupree at the beginning of his career. However, he has all the attributes to be a Super League great for years to come.

Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Must See

More in Super League