The Championship is full of hidden talent, you just have to look hard enough.
Over the years, a number of Super League sides have taken the gamble and gone searching for that gem in the second division – to different degrees of success.
Here are the five best Super League players to have ever signed from Championship clubs.
It seems a world away since Chris Hill came through the ranks at Leigh in 2005, but he spent six happy years with the Centurions before signing for Warrington in 2011. Having won the Challenge Cup in his first season, the prop was made captain in 2016 when he helped guide the Wolves to a first-place finish. England caps have been aplenty with Hill amassing 29 as well as four Great Britain appearances. With his testimonial year around the corner in 2022, it’s safe to say that 33-year-old Hill is one of the most successful to have been found in the Championship.
Another prop forward that began his career in the second division, Alex Walmsley has become one of the most revered forwards in the entirety of rugby league. A Batley Bulldog for just one season in 2012, Walmsley was snapped up by St Helens at the end of that year. The rest, as they say, is history; over 200 appearances and three Grand Final successes later and Walmsley is likely to see out the rest of his career at the Totally Wicked Stadium. Inevitably, five England and four Great Britain caps have also been forthcoming for the 30-year-old.
You would be forgiven in thinking that Zak Hardaker actually came through the Leeds ranks, however, the rangy back began his career at Featherstone Rovers. Making the move to Leeds ahead of the 2011 season, Hardaker went from strength-to-strength in a Super League environment, becoming an integral part of the Rhinos’ trophy-winning success in the 2010s. The Yorkshireman moved from centre to fullback, winning the Man of Steel in 2015 after playing a key role in Leeds’ treble-winning season. Of course, Hardaker left the club at the end of 2016, but it didn’t erase the memory of how important he had been for the West Yorkshire club. After a controversial spell at Castleford, Hardaker made the move to Wigan in 2019 where he has since blossomed.
A Challenge Cup winner with Hull FC in 2005, Danny Brough actually began his rugby league career at Dewsbury in 2002 before playing two seasons with York City Knights. After kicking the winning drop-goal and conversion for the black-and-whites in that famous 25-24 cup win over Leeds, Brough was left in the dark for most of 2006 and so moved to Castleford. He almost single-handedly steered Castleford to promotion in 2007, but left to join rivals Wakefield in 2008. The halfback went on to win the Albert Goldthorpe Medal that year, but stayed for just two seasons. In that time, however, Brough made 57 appearances, scoring 468 points as Trinity had their best-ever Super League season in 2009, finishing fifth with the halfback at the heart of their success. He returned for 2019 and 2020, playing 24 games.
This will come as a surprise for most readers, but Ade Gardner did not come through the ranks at St Helens. In fact, the winger is a Cumbrian born-and-bred, first appearing for the Barrow Raiders in 2000 before moving to Lancashire ahead of the 2002 season. It was a match made in heaven with Gardner appearing almost 300 times for Saints over a period of 13 seasons. In that time, the winger made five appearances apiece for Great Britain and England, though he would move on-loan to Hull KR in 2014, registering 18 appearances. Gardner retired at the end of 2014 with an astonishing 198 tries in 340 games across all of his clubs.
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