Rugby League Combinations: Five of the Best
There have been many great players throughout the history of rugby league. But nothing produces exciting football like bringing together two stars with an innate ability to understand each other and work together.
Traditionally it has been halves pairings that have formed some of the most dynamic duos the game has seen; but brilliant combinations can exist between players in any positions.
Here we rate five of the best:
5. Cliff Lyons & Steve Menzies
This Manly pairing was not your typical combination, but it sure had strike power. Cliff Lyons was a scheming five-eighth with an uncanny ability to put ball runners into holes. Steve Menzies a rangy, brilliant backrower with good leg speed who could burst into holes or be a brilliant support player. Although they only won one premiership together they were a key part of Manly’s mid-90s dominance. Menzies went on to second spot in the all-time try scorers’ list after a long career, but Lyons is due credit for many of the four pointers Menzies claimed early in his playing days.
4. Jonathon Thurston & Matt Bowen
Johnathan Thurston is a player capable of almost anything on a football field – arguably, the game’s greatest ever halfback. Matt Bowen was an excitement machine with a blistering turn of pace. Together, they were more than the sum of their parts. Bowen’s ability and timing in running off a Thurston pass to create a break or score a long range try meant the Cowboys were ever-threatening in any game the pair played together.
3. Allan Langer & Kevin Walters
The diminutive Allan ‘Alfie’ Langer was among the finest halfbacks Queensland has produced and one of the best players of the 1990s. Although he formed a formidable combination with ‘King’ Wally Lewis early in his career, he played most of his career beside Kevin Walters, who took over the Broncos’ five-eighth role from Lewis during the 1990 season. The pair won premierships together in 1992, 93, 97 (Super League) and 1998, as well as forming a winning combination for Queensland and Australia. Their record together puts them among the best halves pairings of the modern era.
2. Cooper Cronk & Billy Slater
Cooper Cronk is one of the best, most consistent halves of the modern era. Billy Slater is generally regarded among the best fullbacks the game has seen. Together the Melbourne Storm duo pose a threat to any defence, particularly with Cronk’s ability to turn a ball inside to a flying Slater, who loves nothing more than tearing through a broken defensive line. Two of the game’s ultimate professionals, their understanding of each other’s game has set a standard that others can only attempt to emulate.
Cronk and Slater will be remembered as the key members of one of rugby league’s greatest backlines.
1. Peter Sterling & Brett Kenny
Peter Sterling had a great understanding of rugby league that, together with his pin-point kicking game, enabled him to steer his Parramatta side around the park. Brett Kenny was the perfect foil; a brilliant attacking player (one of the greatest five-eighths of all time) with a wicked sidestep that could cut through a defence and an uncanny ability to pull off an intercept. Kenny’s move to five-eighth at the start of the 1981 season, joining Sterling in the halves, coincided with Parramatta’s golden era in which the club won four premierships (including three consecutively) in a six year period.
Other Great Rugby League Combinations
There have been many other successful combinations. Ricky Stuart and Laurie Daley won three premierships together at Canberra, Daley playing at centre in 1989 before pairing with Stuart in the halves for premierships in 1990 and 94. As mentioned above, Queensland greats Wally Lewis and Allan Langer were two of the best halves to play for their state and the Broncos, but only played together for two to three seasons. Steve Mortimer provided spark for the Bulldogs in the 1980s while halves partner Terry Lamb was the ever-reliable support player; and, more recently, Daly Cherry-Evans and Keiran Foran created a formidable premiership-winning halves combination during their five seasons at Manly.