Thursday, 16 February 2017

Top Ten Dragons/Steelers Players Ever!

There's no doubt that the St. George-ILLAWARRA Dragons are one of the top two most successful mergers surviving in the NRL today. 

This list celebrates that accomplishment by recognising, completely without bias, the ten greatest players to have ever pulled on a red and white jersey in Australian rugby league history.

Before we get to the list, honourable mentions include but aren't limited to:
Johnny King, Ken Kearney, Ian Walsh, Chris Walsh, Jack Lindwall, Brian 'Poppa' Clay, Eddie Lumsden, John Dorahy, 'Lord' Ted Goodwin, 'Slippery' Steve Morris, his son Brett Morris (but not his uglier son Josh Morris), Frank Burge, Herb Navro, Arthur Justice, Billy Smith, Tony Smith, Craig Smith, Barry Beath, Rod Reddy, Anthony Mundine, Trent Barrett, and Ian Herron.
Now, to the list!

10. The Spaghetti Brothers
If you combined my two favourite childhood footy players into one even more awesome player, they would obviously make the top ten players ever.

So I have done exactly that.

Congratulations to Neil Piccinelli and Dean Schifilliti, AKA The Spaghetti Brothers.
Right: Schifilliti
Left: Piccinelli

Neil Piccinelli was the sort of player who made a lot of tackles when only nerds making tally marks in the Big League program while watching live gave a shit about number of tackles.

In the current era of online fantasy rugby league games, he would be lauded as a potential keeper you should trade cash cows for after the byes, and other such nonsense.

People that don't actually watch much footy would suggest he should be an Origin player because "he's averaging 57 for my NRL Supercoach team". He was basically Shaun Fensom, but with superior attacking skills. And he could kick goals too.

In the early 1990s, Dean Schifilliti may have been the best hooker in the competition not from the Walters family, depending on how you view Benny Elias.

Then he went to Souths, and suffered a serious knee injury. It's debatable which was more damaging to his career. 

I also wanted to include Schif, because it allows me to include this amazing quote:
"I remember that for extras at training,'' Schifilliti says, "we each put $10 dollars in our pockets, ran to the Harp Hotel, had a beer or two, and ran back. We were training at Wollongong Showground south... that's not much of a run!"
About 400 metres run each way would be my guess. And this was around the time all players started earning six figures thanks to Super League. Now they can't breathe in public without #codeincrisis

9. Craig Young 
Young was a front-rower who captained the Dragons to their 15th and last premiership as just St. George, back in 1979. He played 10 matches for NSW (5 Origins), and 20 Tests for Australia.
People still argue to this day about
 whether shoulder charges are dangerous.
Footy fans can be stupid.

His son Dean was also a handy player, until Greg Inglis decapitated him with a shoulder charge to the face.

Young also owned the Unanderra Hotel in Wollongong, which had topless waitresses. During my childhood, every young boy inexplicably knew this, as well as the address and phone number of Wollongong's finest brothel (29 Kenny St, Ph: 294949 by the way).

8. Paul McGregor Brett Rodwell
I had this spot reserved for Paul McGregor but I then decided I can't include 'Mary' until the Dragons become a good side again, or he gets sacked as head coach, whichever comes first.
Such a great combo they had
a footy card together!

So subbing in as the eighth greatest Dragon/Steelers player is his centres partner, Brett Rodwell.

Since the late 1980s, Brett Rodwell has been everywhere in the 'Gong. He would visit your school each year as the Steelers junior rugby league development officer, appear on your local news as a sports reporter, and run your favourite cafe for getting your fix of home-ownership destroying smashed avo'.

It is believed that if you say "Rodwell" three times in Wollongong, a floating headgear will mysteriously appear directly behind you.

Rodwell played one State of Origin match for NSW in 1995. He came on as a substitute, scored a try with one of his first touches, then suffered a season-ending knee injury. His ratio of one try for every ten minutes played makes him the greatest tryscorer in Origin history.

7. Brad Mackay
Easily the best player to appear for St. George, Illawarra, and St. George-Illawarra.

Mackay played 17 Origins for NSW and 12 Tests for Australia. He won the Clive Churchill Medal for best player in a Grand Final, even though his team lost. He still holds the record for the most Test tries scored in the town of Parkes.

Mackay also had an amazing permed mullet look, well into the late 1990s:

6. Reg Gasnier
5. Mark Gasnier
From what I've read of one and seen of the other, Uncle Reg and nephew Mark were very similar players with very similar careers.
If it's on a Tazo selling for $4 on
eBay, you know it's legit.

They both played their junior footy at the same club, burst into the Dragons first grade side at an early age, and went onto represent NSW and Australia many times. They were both centres that showed great attacking skills, with the ability to accelerate, step and swerve to bamboozle the best defences. In retirement, they both became media pundits.

But only one of them had the devastating "Shimmy Shimmy Whoosh" in their arsenal of attacking weapons, which is why it's only fair to rate Mark slightly higher.

4. Norm Provan
Norm Provan has been immortalised as one half of the NRL premiership trophy. It is based on the famous 'The Gladiators' image - Provan as captain of the St. George team in the 1963 Grand Final, embracing Wests captain Arthur Summons at the games end, both caked in mud.

The match itself is widely thought to have been fixed.

Provan must've been a great player in his day to lead the Dragons team in the middle of its eleven-premierships-in-a-row run. However, he does looked undersized for the modern game. Look at how easily last years Grand Final winning captain Paul Gallen is able to lift both Provan AND Summons:

"What is this? A game for ANTS?"

3. Graeme Langlands
'Changa' Langlands emerged from Wollongong in 1963 to provide that extra spark to the already legendary St. George side of the era.

He was still there in 1975, as fullback and captain, when he wore white boots in the Grand Final. Nowadays, players wear all kinds of crazy shit on their feet, but back then, anything not plain black was outrageous. It was outrageous like a woman not being in the kitchen, or a child not being beaten with a cane for some minor behavioural issues. You can see why people reminisce about the 'good old days'.
What's with your boots?
 Also your leg looks like
it's going to fall off.

Unfortunately Langlands entered the game with a groin injury. A pre-game painkilling injection killed the pain, but also made his entire leg numb. This was evident when his first two attempted kicks for touch went about three metres each.

The Dragons were defeated by Easts 38-0 that day, and one of the greatest footballers in rugby league history is mostly remembered for wearing white boots. 

A book from a time when
 you could make a lucrative
after-dinner speaker career
from a reputation for
 trashing hotel rooms,
 nudie runs, and other
 travesties that would see
 you deregistered by the
 NRL today. 
None of this would have happened had he been wearing scarlett and white boots instead. Nobody in Illawarra Steelers colours has ever been embarrassed and humiliated on Grand Final day.

2. Johnny Raper
Raper was a rugby league player and wearer of bowler hats.

He is widely considered the greatest lock forward in rugby league history. Lock is the position now used as a third front-rower, just another 120kg body charging into the defensive line, but it used to involve skills like passing.

Raper is one of three rugby league Immortals on this list. Although he is probably the best player to ever pull on a red-and-white jersey, it also hardly seems fair for the immortal to play against regular human beings.

1. Rod Wishart
Probably the most underrated rugby league player of all time. He played 22 Origin games, 17 Tests for Australia, and helped pioneer modern wing play with his consistent huge gains from dummy-half runs early in the tackle count. If he'd played for a glamour Sydney side instead of the regional Steelers, he'd probably be on Lowes ads, making guest appearances on the Footy Show, and doing whatever else it is retired superstars from the 1990s do to make a buck.

But while the stats don't lie, there are two other aspects of the Wishart legend that seal his reputation as the greatest player to ever don the red and white.

  1. Wishart is the only footy player so good they named a car after him - the Wishy Workhorse! 
  2. Look at those thighs!
  3. Authors own copy.
    Illawarra Steelers 1982-1998 - NEVER FORGET.

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