Ranking the top 10 British players to have played in Australia is no easy task. Thanks to our friends down under poaching some of our best talent over the years, the top tier of rugby league in Australia has always had its British stars. So taking all eras and every player into consideration, here is who we think are the best of the best…
10. Gareth Ellis
Former Leeds and Wakefield star Gareth Ellis signed for the Wests Tigers back in 2009 and made an instant impact for his new club. The imposing forward became one of the league’s best back-rowers, and Ellis was named as Wests Tigers’ Player of the Year in three straight seasons, helping the club return to the NRL Finals in 2010 and 2011. Ellis’ final season in Australia was marred by injury and he returned home to England after 75 NRL appearances.
9. Ellery Hanley
Three-time Man of Steel winner Ellery Hanley was incredibly influential in Balmain’s run to the 1988 Grand Final. The former Wigan and Great Britain captain scored four tries in four games for the Tigers as the club reached the decider from sixth in the ladder. Hanley was forced to leave the Grand Final early due to injury and Balmain’s fairytale came to an abrupt end as they lost against Canterbury. He would join Western Suburbs in 1989 after a fight for his signature, going on to score four tries in 13 appearances. Hanley returned to Balmain as a 35-year-old in 1996 and played another 26 games for the club.
8. Josh Hodgson
Josh Hodgson is one of the most talented hookers in the NRL and has been superb for the Canberra Raiders since arriving in 2015, making over 100 appearances for the club. Hodgson was immense in the 2016 season and was one of the front-runners for that year’s Dally M Medal. He helped the Raiders to second position and his side were unlucky to miss out on a Grand Final. Hodgson and the Raiders went one better in 2019 and reached the NRL Grand Final for the first time in 25 years, with the former Hull KR no.9 enjoying another superb campaign for the green machine.
7. James Graham
Former Super League Man of Steel winner James Graham signed for the Canterbury Bankstown-Bulldogs from St Helens before the 2012 NRL Season and made an instant impact for his new club. The aggressive, ball-playing front-rower helped his new side to a Minor Premiership in his first year, and despite a controversial end to his maiden year in the NRL, after he bit Billy Slater’s ear in the Grand Final loss to Melbourne, Graham bounced back to help guide the Bulldogs to another Grand Final, but again, they fell at the final hurdle. The 2014 Dally M Prop of the Year signed for St George Illawarra in 2018 and has made 45 appearances for the Red Vee, cementing his place as one of the NRL’s greatest ever forwards.
6. Dick Huddart
Like the aforementioned Graham, Huddart played in the Red Vee on both hemispheres when he moved from St Helens to St George in 1964. After making an impression on the 1958 and 1962 Lions tours of Australia, Huddart was recruited by St George Illawarra, and after missing out on Grand Final victories in 1964 and 1965 due to injury, he became the first Briton to win a premiership in 1966 and notched up a try in his sides 24-4 win over Balmain. Huddart made 78 appearances for St George and was influential in their final three premiership victories of the club’s world record 11 straight titles.
5. Dave Bolton
Dave Bolton signed for Balmain Tigers in 1965 after twice touring the country with the Great Britain Lions. The half-back was influential in the sides 1966 Finals push, but fell just short after a loss to St George in the decider. Bolton again appeared in the 1969 Grand Final and achieved a massive upset when his two field goals helped Balmain defeat South Sydney 11-2.
4. Tommy Bishop
Influential half-back Tommy Bishop helped the Cronulla Sharks to become a premiership contender in the early 1970s. He joined the Sharks in 1969 and after several years of leading them up the ladder, they were able to reach their first Grand Final in 1973. Unfortunately, Bishop and the Sharks lost 10-7 to Manly in one of the tightest finals in history.
3. Adrian Morley
Former Leeds star Adrian Morley will likely be remembered as one of the NRL’s most feared British imports. The big-hitting forward regularly spent time off the field due to numerous suspensions he picked up during his six seasons playing for the Sydney Roosters. ‘Moz’ was still an important part of the team though and would go on to win the NRL Premiership in 2002 and the World Club Challenge the following year. He became the first modern-day British player to win Grand Finals in both Super League and the NRL as he starred in three straight NRL Grand Finals for the Tri-Colours, before his career down under ended abruptly with a seven-week suspension in 2006.
2. Malcolm Reilly
With a combination of ball-playing ability and toughness, Malcolm Reilly was able to help Manly overcome a run of five Grand Final defeats. He played 89 times for the Sea Eagles and was influential in their success, winning back-to-back premierships in 1972 and 1973. Recognised as one of the hardest men to have played the code, Reilly was often targeted by opposition forwards but would, more often than not, come out on top. He is one of very few British rugby league players given legendary status down under and was not only a success as a player. Reilly also coached the Newcastle Knights to their first premiership in 1997. The Grand Final is embedded into NRL folklore as Darren Albert’s try in the final seconds sealed victory for Reilly’s side.
1. Sam Burgess
After moving from Bradford to South Sydney as a 21-year-old in 2010, Sam Burgess made a combined 184 appearances during his two stints in the NRL. In that time he scored 44 tries but will be remembered for his heroics in the 2014 Grand Final as he collected the prestigious Clive Churchill Medal. Slammin’ Sam played the full 80 minutes of the Rabbitohs’ historic premiership-winning triumph over the Canterbury Bulldogs; this was despite breaking his cheekbone in the first carry of the game after clashing heads with fellow countryman James Graham. Burgess carried on through the pain-barrier and went on to produce a dominant performance in the pack, writing his name into rugby league folklore. This enhanced his reputation further, having already become the best forward in the game, and it was no surprise Souths jumped at the chance to bring him back to the sport after a brief spell in rugby union. Unfortunately Sam was forced to retire early due to a reoccurring shoulder injury, but he will still go down as one of the greatest players in NRL history.