We recently read an article in the Sydney Morning Herald, where they broke down the greatest NRL team of the modern era, according to points. Which was great… if you’re a mathematician. But it got us thinking, teams are great, but there’s just something about the stars. The special players that put those teams on their backs and carry them to finals and premierships.
So, with no bias at all (this diehard Storm supporter will tell you), we’ve pulled together a list of our top five players of the modern era. Was there a fight in creating this list? Yes. Have we made up yet? Jury is still out. Worth it.
These are the players that you’ve watched in sports bars around the country, raising your beer to the big screen with your mates, in fact they’re the players that sports bars are made for.
OUR TOP FIVE
5. BILLY SLATER
It wouldn’t be a proper countdown without kicking it off with Billy Slater, arguably one of the great fullbacks of the last 20 years and potentially all time.
There wasn’t anywhere on the ground in the NRL that Slater didn’t appear to finish off a great try for the Storm. Sitting on the all-time try scorers list with 190, sitting right next to his two premierships (the other two stripped for salary cap breaches).
A crucial member of the Queensland Maroons, with eight series wins under his belt, we watched Slater grace the screens of our favourite locals for years.
4. DARREN LOCKYER
Coming in at number four, the big Lock. We’ve watched him win premierships, golden boot awards, and represent Australia all from the comfort of our local. Dominating the fullback role from 1998, he was impossible to stop, and played a part in Brisbane’s greatest moments for years.
The most decorated international career of any player during the first 20 years of the NRL, Lockyer retired as the Kangaroos most capped player and highest try scorer. There’s a reason Lockyer made most of the lists in our office, he’s the type of bloke you’d want to buy a beer.
3. ANDREW JOHNS
Andrew Johns changed the outcome of games. Simple. By far the best defender of the game, he was known for coming straight at opposition forwards who dared try him.
Named at halfback in the Team Of The Century, Johns was the heart and soul of the Newcastle Knights. From sideline conversions, late comebacks and a whole lot of guts, Johns will forever go down as one of the best of all time. An all time favourite of the Newcastle community, John’s jersey should hang in pubs all across New South Wales.
2. GREG INGLIS
Who could stop Greg Inglis? The answer is no one. One of the best fullbacks in history, and arguably the greatest centre of the modern era, Inglis lived up to the hype, in every single game he played.
At 18 he showed promise, and by age 20, he was already dominating the competition. Heavily tagged by opposition defence, coaches and opposition did all they could to tame the talent of Inglis, but nothing was able to stop him.
Before he turned 23, Inglis had won the Golden Boot, Clive Churchill Medal, Wally Lewis Medal, Harry Sunderland Medal, Dally M Rep Player Of The Year (twice), and the Dally M Five Eight Of The Year. Have we missed any?
Inglis officially retired from the NRL in 2019 with legend status, breaking the hearts of South Sydney Rabbitoh fans everywhere.
1. CAMERON SMITH
Told you I’m a Melbourne Storm fan. Cameron Smith is the best big game player of all time, according to Matthew Johns, and it’s hard to argue.
The best player of the first 20 years of the NRL, according to us, many have spoken of Smith’s rugby league IQ, but it’s his durability and endurance that is unmatched by anyone. Playing more club games than any man by a considerable margin, Smith notched up his 400th game in 2019. An enormous feat, that we likely won’t see again any time soon.
No one since has been able to dictate the tempo of a game like Smith has, and no one will likely be able to match his consistency. A winner of two World Cups, two premierships, four grand finals, two Dally M Medals, seven Dally M hooker of the year awards, four time representative player of the year, four time Wally Lewis Medal winner, three-time captain of the year, a RLIF player of the year award winner and a Harry Sunderland medal winner. The amount of awards Smith has earnt, makes him the most decorated player in the history of the game.
It’s not a biassed pick we promise, there’s just no one better than Smith.
Johnathan Thurston: This could be controversial not having JT in our top five, however, he’d be the next number on our list if we went higher. The man who put North Queensland on the map, Jonathan Thurston is an icon of the game, highly decorated, multiple premierships and an international representative, Thurston will forever be loved across the country.
Cooper Cronk: From the Melbourne Storm to the Sydney Roosters, Cronk is an infamous name across the NRL community. Sitting behind Smith in the number of games played, at 372, Cronk is an undisputed champion, and the ultimate warrior.
So, where can I watch the rest of the 2023 NRL Season?
I’ll hold my hands up, a Storm supporter did pull this together, but bias aside, the facts are the facts. Will we see another champion rise up to step into the void some of these icons have left on the game?
The 2023 season is in full swing and lucky for us (and maybe unlucky for the West Tigers supporters), we’re only half way through. Will the Panthers go back to back, or will Storm find their spark? You can catch every game of every round, live at your local.
Where can I watch the 2023 NRL season near me? Find your local right here.
Find out what other NRL matches are coming up here.