Garry Jack’s Legendary XVII rugby league team

Garry Jack’s Legendary XVII

Throughout the 1980s no fullback consistently dominated the position like Garry Jack did, and in 1986 he was officially recognised as the best player on the planet.

A constant figure for the Blues and Kangaroos, Jack helped Balmain to become one of the best teams around in the late 1980s, playing in eventual losing Grand Final efforts in 1988 and 1989.

Along the way he shared jerseys with, and lined up opposite, some of the finest players in the history of the game, including an immortal and two members of Australia’s Team of the Century.

Garry Jack takes a trip down memory lane and runs Rugby League Opinions through his greatest ever 17.

Fullback: Graham Eadie

Clubs: Manly, Halifax
Rep honours: 20 Tests for Australia, 13 appearances for NSW Firsts, 1 Origin for NSW

“I played against him towards the back end of his career and he was one of the greats of Australian sport. As a kid I looked up him. A great returner of the ball, safe as anything under the bomb. Gary Belcher was a heck of a fullback too, but if it’s my best team Graham Eadie is the fullback – one of the best competitors ever.”

Wing: Eric Grothe

Clubs: Parramatta, Leeds
Rep honours: 8 Tests for Australia, 4 appearances for NSW Firsts, 9 Origins for NSW

“Eric Grothe was untouchable between 81 and 85; no-one could touch him. He was so strong. On the ‘82 Kangaroo tour when Mal Meninga was inside him, he was ridiculous. A proven match winner.

Centre: Mal Meninga

Clubs: Canberra, St Helens
Rep honours: 46 Tests for Australia, 7 appearances for Queensland Firsts, 32 Origins for Queensland

“Tackling Mal throughout my career was sort of something I never looked forward to! He was a good player early on but he was a much better player when he came back from his broken arm, he was a lot more involved, he went looking for stuff in the game. He was skillful but mostly just so big and strong. Mal’s career spanned for such a long time too, which is important to recognise.”

Centre: Brett Kenny

Clubs: Parramatta, Wigan
Rep honours: 3 Tests for Australia, 3 appearances for NSW Firsts, 17 Origins for NSW

“Brett Kenny was a great ball player, a fantastic defender and lightning with the ball. The only thing he couldn’t do was kick – so if you put him at centre he didn’t have to! He outplayed Wally Lewis in the Origin Series in ‘86 and that year had to be in the Kangaroos, but with Wally there he had to play centre. He often made Mal miss out on selection in rep sides, that’s how good he was. Brett was up there with the best I have ever played with or against. Great on the ball and was a guy who played like that week in, week out.”

Wing: Michael O’Connor

Clubs: St George, Manly, St Helens
Rep honours: 18 Tests for Australia, 2 appearances for NSW Firsts, 19 Origins for NSW

“A great natural runner and player. He played a lot of union and for the Wallabies, so was a great goalkicker. Some players just know where the try-line is and how to get to it, where to back up, when to support, he had the ability and could create something from nothing. He did really, really well, especially since for a while he couldn’t get a go with the Kangaroos – Terry Fearnley, the coach, didn’t think he was good enough – but he was just fantastic.

Five-eighth: Wally Lewis

Clubs: Brisbane, Gold Coast, Wakefield
Rep honours: 34 Tests for Australia, 3 appearances for Queensland Firsts, 34 Origins for Queensland

“The ultimate leader. He could lift players before a game or during a game, whether it was with a stare or a look, he could just get players, and he led from the front. He just had time on the ball and great vision. When we beat the Kiwis in ‘85, there was about a minute to go, we were on halfway, I looked at him, he looked at me, I knew there was a gap in the middle and I just ran to it. He found me, I went straight through and found John Ribot for the game-winning try. That showed his awareness, and with his kicking game, if you were in trouble he’d get you out. He made big tackles, big runs; a very, very good player.”

Halfback: Peter Sterling

Clubs: Parramatta, Hull FC
Rep honours: 18 Tests for Australia, 13 Origins for NSW

“‘Sterlo’ was always a couple of plays ahead. He wasn’t the quickest, he could just read the game, even now when you hear him talk about the game, that’s how he played. So clever, a natural leader and a great performer for NSW and Australia. His ball play was courageous, he talked, had a fantastic kicking game and despite not being a big fella was a good low tackler.”

Prop: Craig Young

Clubs: St George
Rep honours: 20 Tests for Australia, 5 appearances for NSW Firsts, 5 Origins for NSW

“Just tough, just tough. When you played against the toughest guys – the Sorensen brothers Kurt and Dane or Kevin Tamati – he was a cornerstone of the side. A rock-solid player who I always liked. A pure enforcer.”

Hooker: Ben Elias

Clubs: Balmain
Rep honours: 6 Tests for Australia, 19 Origins for NSW

“Ahead of his time as a hooker. Him and Steve Roach formed a great combination and a lot of plays came off Benny’s ball-playing. He used to jump out of dummy-half and sort of changed hooker play for the likes of Cameron Smith, because at that time hookers were just told to pass and pass. Benny could kick and run and he was tough too. He created so much using all that skill”

Prop: Steve Roach

Clubs: Balmain
Rep honours: 19 Tests for Australia, 17 Origins for NSW

“He played in a brutal time for front-rowers, where you knew if you were playing a game of footy there was probably going to be a fight on, you just knew it. ‘Blocker’ and I grew up together and played with each other from the age of seven, and he was the same back then, always wanting to have a fight or get stuck in, always provoking something. He was Arthur Beetson-like in the way he could offload the ball and he actually had soft hands and quick legs for a big fella. I remember once against the Kiwis he said to Adrian Shelford in the first scrum of the game ‘do you want to play footy or do you want to fight?’ Shelford said ‘I want to play footy’. Blocker gave them a choice, if you wanted to fight he’d fight.”


Second row: Gene Miles

Clubs: Brisbane, Wigan
Rep honours: 14 Tests for Australia, 2 appearances for Queensland Firsts, 23 Origins for Queensland

“Gene Miles was a guy you always wanted in your team and he makes this side because he could play centre or back row – and he was an awesome back-rower, very skillful and good with the ball. He had played basketball as a kid so he had great ball control. Gene was vicious, and in the back row you need some guys like that. He made the transition from the backs to the forwards really well once he started to slow up.”

Second row: Noel Cleal

Clubs: Eastern Suburbs, Manly, Widnes, Hull FC
Rep honours: 8 Tests for Australia, 1 appearance for NSW Firsts, 12 Origins for NSW

“‘Crusher’ was a bit lazy in defence! But when he had the ball, because he was a big bloke, he could rip you apart. I scored many tries off Crusher when two blokes would go to tackle him and he could get the ball away. He was a player who you hung around and waited for something to happen, because he created stuff from nothing. Wayne Pearce was a hard worker, Gene Miles was a hard worker, but when Cleal had the ball he was just unstoppable”

Lock: Wayne Pearce

Clubs: Balmain
Rep honours: 19 Tests for Australia, 15 Origins for NSW

“Wayne Pearce was a professional before we all became professional. He was 100 per cent committed, even though he probably wasn’t the most gifted or talented player. What he had he used it all, he milked every ounce of ability out of his body. He was a courageous defender and a strong runner of the ball – he wasn’t a very big fella compared to the Sorensen boys and Mark Graham and he probably was only about the same size as his son Mitchell plays at these days – but he never took a backwards step and would just smash blokes. When you were under pressure he was the kind of player that would demand the ball”

Reserve: Paul Sironen

Clubs: Balmain
Rep honours: 23 Tests for Australia, 14 Origins for NSW

“His impact off the bench would be huge. He was a massive bloke and could create something out of nothing because it usually took three blokes to stop him, and if he had the chance he could run himself. He did three Kangaroo tours and as a forward he was just fantastic.”

Reserve: Les Davidson

Clubs: South Sydney, Cronulla, Warrington, Wigan
Rep honours: 4 Tests for Australia, 5 Origins for NSW

“Everyone feared Les. Off the field he was the nicest bloke you could meet, but when he crossed the white line he was ferocious. I felt a bit sorry for him and think he could have achieved more in representative footy than he did. He was the sort of player that even guys like ‘Roachy’ didn’t want to get into a fight with. Les could handle himself very well.”

Reserve: Terry Lamb

Clubs: Western Suburbs, Canterbury, Sydney Bulldogs,
Rep honours: 8 Tests for Australia, 7 Origins for NSW

“His back-up play was superb, wherever the ball would be ‘Baa baa’ would be there and he just knew what to do. He could goal kick, he could back up and set things up. We lost Wally Lewis in the ‘88 World Cup and Terry came straight in and did the job. Terry was just a winner, and whenever he was in your side you knew you were a chance.”

Reserve: Ellery Hanley

Clubs: Balmain, Western Suburbs, Sydney Tigers, Bradford Northern, Wigan, Leeds
Rep honours: 36 Tests for Great Britain

“I’ve gone with Ellery here over Des Hasler for the final bench spot. He was probably the best Englishman I played alongside. He was very athletic and could just about play anywhere on the park. He was someone I really enjoyed playing with at Balmain.”

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