BLOCKER’S BEST BRITS
Steve Roach praises powerhouse Poms who’ve dazzled Down Under
IGET A TINGLE DOWN MY spine whenever I hear the name Malcolm Reilly. I count my lucky stars we played in different eras.
My dear mum has always liked my face. Had I played opposite Reilly she would never have recognised it.
That was the case when he and George Piggins had one of the most violent one-on-one exchanges in footy folklore during a game at the SCG in 1973.
Footy has never had a more brutal forward – and there have been few to match Reilly’s skills.
I’ve seen film of him playing for Manly and spearheading a premiership triumph. I’ve seen him coach Great Britain to a Test win against Australia and I saw how he converted mice into men at the Newcastle Knights.
A chronic knee injury never failed to curb his enthusiasm for destroying an opponent.
Reilly is a walk-up start in a team I’ve selected representing the best English players to have competed in the NRL. My best of the Brits is: Joe Lydon (Easts) Martin Offiah (Easts, St George) Ellery Hanley (Balmain, Wests) Garry Schofield (Balmain) Des Drummond (Wests) Jonathan Davies (Bulldogs, Cowboys) Tommy Bishop (Cronulla) Malcolm Reilly (Manly) Sam Burgess (Souths) Bill Ashurst (Penrith) Kevin Ward (Manly) Mike Stephenson (Penrith) Cliff Watson (Cronulla)
Joe Lydon gave Easts great service during his two stints at Bondi but I will remember him for the 56-metre field goal he landed in a game between Wigan and Warrington in 1989. I was playing with Warrington when Lydon, as cool as a referee’s smile, kicked the giant field goal that helped give Wigan a 13-6 win in the semi-final of the Challenge Cup.
Martin Offiah was a great crowd pleaser with electrifying speed. He had stints with Easts and St George, scoring 20 tries in 27 games. This bloke also scored a phenomenal 10 tries in a match against Leeds in 1992 – I crossed for only two more during my entire career with the mighty Tiges! Ellery Hanley was England’s answer to our Reg Gasnier. When he had the ball in hand, the game exploded. Garry Schofield was a wonderful schemer. Superb footwork and a master of the grubber and chip kick. At 18, he was the youngest-ever Great Britain player. Had three seasons with the Tigers and a season with Wests. Scored 33 tries from 56 games.
Des Drummond only had a brief stint with Wests. He was a fiery type who’d run over the postman to score.
Jonathan Davies was a class act with Canterbury and North Queensland – and a danger man when he played the Kangaroos.
Tommy Bishop called the shots for the Sharks from 1969-73. By far and away the greatest halfback to wear England’s colours.
Mal Reilly? I’m getting that shiver again. If he wasn’t making you see stars from a “Liverpool Kiss”, he would delight in letting you taste his elbow. Sam Burgess is a power athlete. His 2014 form for the Rabbitohs is indelible. Bill Ashurst was skilled to a level few could emulate. Rated one of the hardest players to nail. Ended his time with Penrith after a blue with Mike Stephenson.
Kevin Ward was another powerhouse and a dominant player in Manly’s grand final win in 1987. Was the cornerstone of the Castleford and St Helens packs.
Mike Stephenson was a drawcard for the Panthers from 1974-78. Liked to run the ball at the line and scored 14 tries in two seasons. His transfer fee of $39,000 from Dewsbury was a world record.
Cliff Watson had three years with the Sharks, including playing a brutal role in the infamous 1973 grand final loss to Manly. Great player – and a great bloke.
OFFIAH REILLY DAVIES HANLEY SCHOFIELD
THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS Martin Offiah could match motors with any player in any era while Mal Reilly’s toughness was legendary. The likes of Hanley, Schofield and Davies would add the polish after Reilly dished out the punishment!