My Best Seventeen

One of the things I have enjoyed reading over the last few weeks have been the accounts by sportspeople of their all-time best XI, or XIII, or V or XVIII or whatever number constitutes Teams this day and age.

You get to thinking about why someone else nominated that person? Was it all on ability? Skill? Relationship? Pure numbers…. Whatever the driver, because they are opinion pieces, every selection is correct.

You then start thinking about your own ex-teammates. The stars you played with. The underappreciated. The forgotten in some cases. And when push comes to shove and you asked to collate yours – well then, all sorts of hell can break loose!

But, without (much) fear nor (significant) favour, here is my All Time Best Seventeen I Had The Privilege Of Calling Teammate.

  1. Tim Brasher: 14 Tests, 21 Origins – played with him for two years and within that time I reckon he made 2 mistakes – both within a ten-minute period in a game v the Raiders in Canberra. Tough, hungry and strong. I saw him bench press his own body weight 43 times. Sound easy? Try it. Played 18 straight Origin games for NSW which is a phenomenal effort. Like other Balmain fullbacks was very, very careful with his money!
  2. Martin Offiah: 33 Tests Great Britain, 5 Tests England, Two Lance Todd Trophy’s, 501 tries – I think the numbers do tell the story. In an era when defence was becoming more and more pronounced Martin scored over 500 tries – incredible. I played with him when he was 33 years of age but still had above average winger speed (actually only went as fast as he needed to) and scored 16 tries in 25 games in a team that won just 8 games. Was also part of the “Salford gang” that we knocked around with that year – Jason Webber, Kris Tassell, Jason Nicol, Martin and me. Great times. Saw his phone once and a name was in it as just “Lennox”. I said, “who’s that?” He said, “the heavyweight champion of the world, who do you think it is?” That was Martin and the circles he walked in.
  3. Andrew Walker: 1 Test Kangaroos, 7 Tests Wallabies – the most gifted player on the list bar none. Won a Sydney First Grade Rugby Union premiership as a 17-year-old with Randwick. Phil Gould got him to the Roosters in 1995 and seriously our whole game plan revolved around getting the ball to him. Started kicking spiral bombs – they were impossible to catch. Could skip away from defenders with ease. Had his issues off the field but that is understandable in some ways. A match winner.
  4. Julian O’Neill: 1 Test, 10 Origins, 361 total games – most people think of off-field issues when they hear the name Julian O’Neill. I think about one of the most talented sports people I have ever seen. Athletically Jules would beat anyone. Everyone. The fact he didn’t particularly look after himself made this all the more remarkable. I remember in a video session watching a break by Phil Clarke – we were watching the previous week’s game v the Broncos – and Coach Gould was marvelling at the positional work of Jules to get Phil exactly where he wanted him, and then executing the tackle.
  5. Matt Sing: 14 Tests, 24 Origins – Matty came to the Roosters a skinny kid from Penrith and left a bona fide star. He would be Captain Coach of the Most dedicated Team I have played with – he wanted to put on weight so he would set his alarm for 3am and get up and eat. He was very quiet – in fact one year I swear I only ever heard him say two words. The second word was Junee, the surname of his inside centre Darren who would rarely pass the ball to him in ball work sessions. The first? Well this is a family publication so will not be disclosed.
  6. Brad Fittler: (Captain) 38 Tests, 31 Origins Two Premierships – everyone who has met Freddy has a Freddy story. He was so magnetic. Still is. Lived life differently. Still does. Unbelievable skill – second only to Walker on this list. But attitude. That was the thing. The tougher it got at training, the better he got. The tougher the game, the better he played. Outstanding leader of people. He played in a semi-final in 1996 for the Roosters versus the Dragons when he had no right to walk. Injections everywhere. Nearly dragged us to victory on courage alone. He spent the night in hospital. Next day, because we had lost, was Mad Monday. Freddy just had to turn up, so he did. In a wheelchair. Never has a 24-hour period better summed up Brad Fittler. Sporting Legend.
  7. Jason Taylor: 2 Origins, 276 NRL games, 2,107 points, 1 Rothmans Medal – debuted at 67 kilograms. Straight out of school, which is where I played with him. Never met a person so dedicated to making the sacrifices required to achieve the things he wanted to achieve. From a single parent family. First significant purchase from footy money was a house for his Mum. Tell me that does earn respect. To play at that size, with that durability – held consecutive games record at 194 until beaten by Luke Douglas – is something else. Also, one of the greatest goal kickers to have ever played the game.
  8. Craig Salvatori: 2 Tests, 5 Origins – probably get a start as the least dedicated player in this team but might also win favourite player. Salvo could have been anything. At one stage with the Roosters he would do the kick offs, kick returns, kick for sideline, and occasional kick for goal. And he was a front rower! Magnetic personality too. One of those players who if he said something, you just did it. In discussions between he, Sean Garlick and myself he was alarmed to learn we drank a lot less than the 70 schooners he consumed weekly. During footy season. They don’t make ‘em like Salvo anymore.
  9. Sean Garlick: 160 games, Roosters Captain – toughest position for me with Ciriaco Mescia (Western Suburbs Magpies) and Malcolm Alker (Salford City Reds) unlucky to not get the nod. Sean, probably better known now for his pies than his tries, was a real leader. And tough. His last few games he was like a pin cushion with that many injections to get himself on the field. Not overly skilled, nor overly fast he still made you feel good running out next to him. Also, great tourist. If it was a Garlick lead expedition it was bound to be fun.
  10. Mark Carroll: 9 Tests, 7 Origins 1 Premiership – a bloke who takes himself way too seriously and then by default is so easy to gee up but who you just loved playing with. Tough goes without saying. Who wasn’t sitting on their couch on that Friday night in 1995 when he and Chief went at it in Newcastle questioning what they would do in the same situation? Not skilled but dedicated. And single minded.
  11. Paul Langmack: 4 Origins, 3 Premierships, 309 games – not everyone’s cup of tea. Not my cup of tea to be honest, but what a player. Very, very smart ball player who was more halfback then lock. Had played in three grand finals and been on a Kangaroo Tour by age 21. If they kept a tally on try assists back in Langer’s day, he would have blown them off the charts. I watched a game recently where Wests played Norths on a Monday Night at Campbelltown in 1996 – the night Andrew Willis kicked the winning field goal – and of the three tries the Magpies scored Langers set up three of them.
  12. Tony Iro: 25 Tests New Zealand – very athletic big man who started on the wing and then migrated to the second row. Very skilful. And wanted to always use his skill. Situations weren’t nervous and neither was Tony! He lived his life with a carefree attitude and loved a good time – a reason I was drawn to him. When he joined the Roosters in 1994 CEO Bernie Gurr asked him what type of work they could find for him. “That won’t be necessary thanks Bernie”. Work of that type never really appealed to Tony.
  13. Phil Clarke: 16 Tests Great Britain, 6 Tests England – career cut short by a broken neck after just two matches of his first full season at the Roosters. What a player – fit, dedicated and confident. Had a really strong reputation as a player before joining the Roosters and then was found to be an even better teammate. Emulated Brad Clyde in that he prided himself in getting back for the second hit up from a kick. Was single minded about what he wanted and would pursue his goal with inevitable success.
  14. Jason Lowrie: 16 Tests New Zealand – came out of nowhere to play 22 NRL games in 1993 and became a mainstay of the team from that point. Just did everything that was required of him. Often the hardest parts of the game. Was a coach’s dream. Jack Gibson loved him. Gus Gould loved him. I remember coming back from Christmas break to season 1996 – there was some confusion if we had to do weights on the Monday morning before field training in the afternoon. Only one guy turned up for weights – Jason Lowrie. It was noted by staff and peers.
  15. Brett Rodwell: 1 Origin, 202 games – the best combination of gifted athlete and most dedicated trainer I have seen. Would win races from 100m to 10kms. Didn’t see him play his best at the Rabbitohs – some of that beyond his control – but as a youngster he was quality. Did his ACL scoring a try in his only Origin game – but met his wife who was his physio! Great personality to be around and loved a practical joke – permanently had a plastic spider on top of the sun visor on the passenger side of his car for unsuspecting travellers. Illawarra Steelers legend and rightly so.
  16. Luke Ricketson: 5 Tests Australia, 4 Tests Ireland, 10 Origins, 1 Premiership – Ricko started a pimply faced winger/centre and finished, some 301 games later, a Club Legend. Really athletic as a youngster and naturally fit he eventually found dedication too which took his game to new levels. He was the glamour boy of the glamour club when they won a lot – and partied a lot too. And a chick magnet. Maybe the biggest I have seen. Or maybe not.
  17. Craig Wing: 17 Tests Australia, 11 Tests Japan, 12 Origins, 1 Premiership – Sorry Ricko, pipped by Wingy in the “pretty boy” stakes. This does Craig a disservice. He was very tough, very athletic, pretty skilled, very dedicated and thoroughly committed. He was a nice quiet young kid when I was standing back on halfway clapping his try against the Sharks in Round 10, 1999. He had beaten, in an angled 60 metre run to the line, in no particular order Nick Graham, Mitch Healey, Andrew Ettinghausen, Mat Rogers and then stood up David Peachey cold. He was only 19.

Coach: Phil Gould: 2 Premierships, 6 Origin Series – a highly intelligent coach who was the master of motivation. Brilliant orator. Tactically so astute. He knew our players better than they knew themselves; I know that personally. He knew their players as well. Different dude. Inconsistent – which was his greatest fault. You never knew what was going on with Gus. I think he liked it that way. Knowing him as a coach I can see why he had such incredible success at Origin – he was built to coach it.

Trainer: Ron Palmer: Ronnie, Rotten Box, Ted Mulry, Forty Twenty, The Cougar – never has one man had so many nicknames! Tough choice this as Scott Campbell and Tony Green were great as well. You actually spend more time with the trainer than the coach, so this relationship is key. Ronnie always knew how hard to push us and when to back off.  Which wasn’t often. Set such high standards for himself, he expected as much from his players. Great tourist. In fact, I think that is the major reason he has hung around so long!

 

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