Australian Rugby League’s Team of the Decade (1990s)
Note: It is inherently difficult to put together these lists. Our selection criteria was simple – consider only the performances produced and achievements accomplished during the 1990s.
1. Fullback: Tim Brasher
Balmain Tigers (1990 – 1997)
South Sydney Rabbitohs (1998 – 1999)
Although the 1990s produced a plethora of other brilliant fullbacks, none could match the consistent excellence of Tim Brasher across the decade. Blessed with explosive speed, safe hands, and a deadly swerve, Brasher was a constant thorn for opposition sides. Just as importantly, his superb positional play and tenacious cover defence meant that he often saved as many tries as he scored. Brasher made 16 appearances for Australia (including the 1992 and 1995 World Cup victories) and represented New South Wales on 19 occasions during the decade.
2. Winger: Andrew Ettingshausen
Cronulla Sharks (1990 – 1999)
Fast, skilful and deceptively tough, Cronulla Sharks’ legend, Andrew Ettingshausen, was undoubtedly one of rugby league’s premier outside backs in the early 1990s. Often a victim of his own versatility, Ettingshausen shuffled between wing, fullback, centre and even five-eighth throughout his career; however, at representative level, ‘ET’ left his most lasting impression as a flying winger. He was a staple of the New South Wales side through the early part of the decade and was Australia’s leading try-scorer on consecutive Kangaroo Tours in 1990 and 1994.
3. Centre: Steve Renouf
Brisbane Broncos (1990 – 1999)
A key member of the Broncos sides that dominated the 1990s, Steve Renouf was one of the most deadly attacking players the game has seen. His incredible acceleration, balance and agility made him a constant threat on the left edge for Brisbane, Queensland and Australia throughout the decade. Renouf was an integral member of the 1992 World Cup side, scoring the match-sealing (and only) try in the final, and a key contributor to Australia’s successful Ashes defence of 1994. He played in all four of Brisbane’s grand final victories during the ‘90s, claiming a hat-trick in the 1997 Super League triumph.
Read More: Australian Rugby League’s Best Backlines
4. Centre: Mal Meninga
Canberra Raiders (1990 – 1994)
Mal Meninga played just five seasons during the ’90s, yet his influence was still easily significant enough to earn him a spot in our team of the decade. Meninga took the Raiders to two premierships (1990, 1994), captained Australia to World Cup glory (1992) and led two successful Kangaroo tours (1990, 1994). His destructive ball running, combined with soft hands and a clever short passing game, made him a nightmare for opposition defences to contain. Meninga’s outstanding leadership during this latter period of his career no doubt contributed to his indelible legacy (in 2008, Meninga was named centre in Australian Rugby League’s Team of the Century).
5. Winger: Wendell Sailor
Brisbane Broncos (1993 – 1999)
Wendell Sailor arrived on the rugby league scene in 1993 and, within a year, had shoehorned his way into an already supremely talented Brisbane backline. His ascent was remarkable: in 1994, Sailor was selected for the Australian Kangaroos’ Tour of Great Britain and France and, by 1996, he could lay claim to being the world’s premier winger, a tag he would relish for the remainder of the decade. Sailor’s athleticism changed the role of the winger in rugby league – his large frame and powerful running game gave his team an ‘extra forward’ in attack – and, in many ways, he became the prototype for modern-day outside backs.
6. Five-eighth: Laurie Daley
Canberra Raiders (1990 – 1999)
Tough, skilful, athletic and composed, Laurie Daley was arguably the most dominant player of the era. Initially graded as a centre, Daley moved to five-eighth in 1990 and rapidly established himself as the world’s best. In 1992, at just 22 years of age, he was named New South Wales captain and led the Blues to three consecutive series wins against a very strong Queensland outfit. Daley’s representative achievements were somewhat stifled by injury and the Super League war; however, he still managed over 20 appearances for New South Wales and Australia (many as skipper). Best remembered for his dynamic running game and punishing defence, Daley finished the ’90s with two premierships (1990, 1994), a Dally M Medal (1995) and Super League’s Player of the Year Award (1997) to his name.
7. Halfback: Allan Langer
Brisbane Broncos (1990 – 1999)
Although challenged by Ricky Stuart’s brilliance in the first half of the decade and Andrew Johns’ emergence in the second, there can be no question that the Broncos’ little maestro Allan Langer dominated the ’90s. The diminutive playmaker routinely embarrassed opposition defences throughout the decade, wielding a short passing and kicking game unrivalled by any player, before or since. Langer captained the Broncos to four premierships (1992, 1993, 1997, 1998), won Rothman’s (1992) and Dally M (1996) Medals, and led Queensland and Australia on multiple occasions. His 1998 season, in which he captained club, state and country to victory, is considered one of the most dominant in history.
As a rival football coach, the two players in the game I feared playing against the most were Allan Langer and [Laurie] Daley.
– Phil Gould, Sydney Morning Herald (May 26, 2013)
8. Prop Forward: Glenn Lazarus
Canberra Raiders (1990 – 1991)
Brisbane Broncos (1992 – 1997)
Melbourne Storm (1998 – 1999)
Glenn Lazarus played in the first four grand finals of the ‘90s, winning three, and then rounded out the decade by captaining the Melbourne Storm to their first premiership in 1999. This incredible run of success (including premierships with three different clubs) was no fluke, as many consider ‘The Brick with Eyes’ to be the finest front-rower of the modern era. Lazarus represented New South Wales and Australia with distinction throughout the entirety of the decade. His remarkable constitution for work – once playing the full 80 minutes in the front row for New South Wales – in combination with his hulking frame made him one of the most valuable players of the era.
9. Hooker: Steve Walters
Canberra Raiders (1990 – 1996)
North Queensland Cowboys (1997 – 1998)
Newcastle Knights (1999)
Considered one of the finest hookers of all time, Steve Walters was a critical contributor to the Raiders’ success in the early ‘90s. In an era where dummy-half running was far less common, Walters’ incisive bursts gave his Canberra side an extra, extremely deadly, prong in attack. ‘Boxhead’ was named Dally M Hooker of the Year three times (1991, 1993 and 1995) and was a key member of the Queensland and Australian sides during the decade. Among his representative highlights was a man-of-the match performance in the 1992 World Cup Final.
10. Prop Forward: Paul Harragon
Newcastle Knights (1990 – 1999)
An intimidating and fearsome front rower, Paul Harragon was a central figure in the New South Wales State of Origin sides that dominated the early ‘90s – he made 20 consecutive appearances for the Blues between 1992 and 1998 – and a regular for the Australian Kangaroos. His no-nonsense, confrontational style won him many admirers and earned him the respect of his most ardent rivals. Perhaps best remembered for his brutal on-field battles with Mark ‘Spud’ Carroll, Harragon’s finest hour arrived in 1997 when he led the Newcastle Knights to their maiden premiership.
11. Second Row Forward: Bradley Clyde
Canberra Raiders (1990 – 1998)
Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs (1999)
Easily the most dominant back-rower of the early ’90s, Bradley Clyde is revered by many in rugby league as one of the most complete players ever to lace a boot. His phenomenal work rate, combined with power, pace and skill, made him a lynchpin of the Raiders’ success in the early part of the decade. Clyde secured two premierships (1990, 1994) during the ’90s and was the first player to be awarded the Clive Churchill Medal in a losing side (1991). He was a crucial contributor for NSW in State of Origin and received the Harry Sunderland Medal for player of the series in Australia’s successful Ashes defence of 1992.
12. Second Row Forward: Gorden Tallis
St. George Dragons (1992 – 1995)
Brisbane Broncos (1997 – 1999)
Gorden Tallis burst onto the rugby league scene with the St George Dragons in 1992, making his name as a wide-running second rower. By 1994, he had played in a grand final and made his State of Origin debut for Queensland. His career was placed on hold when he sensationally sat out the 1996 season due to a contractual dispute with the Dragons. However, he showed that he had lost none of his ability when he joined the Brisbane Broncos for their 1997 Super League campaign and rapidly established himself as the most destructive and dominant forward in the game – a mantle he would hold, undisputedly, for the remainder of the decade. Tallis was critical to the Broncos’ 1997 premiership victory and his influence grew in ’98, when he was awarded the Clive Churchill Medal for best-on-ground in Brisbane’s grand final triumph. Tallis would eventually be recognised as one of the greatest second-rowers of all-time.
13. Lock Forward: Brad Fittler
Penrith Panthers (1990 – 1995)
Sydney Roosters (1996 – 1999)
Brad Fittler debuted for Penrith at just 17 years of age and quickly stamped himself as something special. Before his 20th birthday, the Panthers’ prodigy had helped his club to consecutive grand final appearances (1990, 1991) and earned the game’s highest representative honours (setting records as the youngest ever New South Wales and Australian representative). In 1995, Fittler was thrust into the Australian captaincy and led his country superbly to retain the World Cup. His high-profile move to the Sydney Roosters, a year later, saw him blossom further as a leader and, by the end of the ’90s, Fittler was arguably the world’s best player. In a decade littered with accolades, Fittler secured five Dally M gongs in three different positions (Centre – 1992, 1993; Lock – 1994; Five-eighth – 1998, 1999) – a testament to his incredible ability and versatility.
Read More: Sydney Roosters’ Greatest XIII
What do you think? Have we got it right? Who should have made the cut?