Graham Lowe’s Legendary XVII
As a coach Graham Lowe reached the highest levels of the game, leading both New Zealand and Queensland to success. Through the late 1970s to mid 1990s, Lowe mentored some of the greatest players of the time, with names like Wally Lewis, Mark Graham and Ellery Hanley all spending time plying their trade under ‘Lowie’.
Not just a coach, Lowe has also held a number of high-rank administration roles in the game, having previously served as the CEO of the Manly Sea Eagles and currently co-owning England’s Bradford Bulls club.
We sat down with Lowe to get his all-time best 17 and discuss what made the players in his ‘dream team’ so special.
“I think back on my career and not one player I ever coached let me down, so I feel sort of guilty only naming 17,” Lowe said.
“There were guys I didn’t coach much or just in State of Origin – Alfie Langer, Kerry Boustead, Gene Miles, Mal [Meninga] – they were amazing. It’s pretty hard to name a team and leave Mal out!
“But it comes down to the longevity I had with certain players that persuaded me to put them down first. The other thing was, every one of these players named here could play today, many others wouldn’t have fit the mould.
“The captain would be a choice between Michael O’Connor, Ellery, Mark Graham or Wally. They were all international captains and I couldn’t pick one from them.”
Fullback: Matthew Ridge
Clubs: Manly, Auckland Warriors
Rep honours: 25 Tests for New Zealand
“Highly competitive, very skilful and extremely brave. Everything you look for in a fullback he had it. Matthew never had any lower-grade action in league after coming across from union, I just put him straight in and his first game of league was in a Manly jersey. That’s the confidence I had.”
Wing: Dane O’Hara
Clubs: Hull FC
Rep honours: 35 Tests for New Zealand
“Dane was just the absolute reliable winger. Any opportunities that came up he would take. He never, ever missed an opportunity. There were a lot of good wingers that I have been involved with but he sticks in my mind because he wasn’t as flamboyant as many others, but never missed out. Plenty of pace and a good defender too.”
Centre: Dean Bell
Clubs: Eastern Suburbs, Auckland Warriors, Leeds, Carlisle, Wigan
Rep honours: 26 Tests for New Zealand
“The thing about Dean was his speed and his toughness. I have never seen a tougher centre than him in my life. He was a really, really aggressive and hard-running player who knew how to find the try-line and set his wingers up, plus he was a ferocious defender. Absolutely reliable.”
Centre: Michael O’Connor
Clubs: St George, Manly
Rep honours: 18 Tests for Australia, 19 Origins for New South Wales
“Just class, he was all class in everything he did. He had fantastic speed – very, very fast – he knew how to score tries and was a good leader. But it was his class that really stood out.”
Wing: Tony Iro
Clubs: Manly, Eastern Suburbs, Sydney City, Hunter Adelaide, South Sydney, Wigan, Leigh
Rep honours: 25 Tests for New Zealand
“He was the first of a kind really, and it was just by chance that I signed him. I was trying to sign his brother, Kevin, and we got right down to him agreeing and then he came up with one more condition which was that I signed his brother as well.
“I got Tony over to Wigan, and he was well out of condition, but he turned into an international. Big, strong and fast. He could play in the forwards when it was required, too.”
Five-eighth: Wally Lewis
Clubs: Brisbane, Gold Coast, Wakefield
Rep honours: 34 Tests for Australia, 34 Origins for Queensland
“Just an outstanding leader, a great leader. He could smell a way to win that no-one else could. He wasn’t called The King for nothing. He was just one of a kind. His record speaks for itself and he was a guy you always wanted in your team and who others wanted next to them.”
Halfback: Geoff Toovey
Clubs: Manly, Northern Eagles
Rep honours: 10 Tests for Australia, 15 Origins for New South Wales
“‘Tooves’ had good speed, great acceleration over 20 metres and was fast all up. He was super brave, he had all the skills that you look for in a halfback. Great hands, always backed up, was a good link player and was as courageous as they come.”
Prop: Ian Roberts
Clubs: Manly, South Sydney, North Queensland, Wigan
Rep honours: 13 Tests for Australia, 9 Origins for New South Wales
“I mainly played Ian in the second row, but he played in the front row as well and I just couldn’t leave him out. Ian was just a hugely committed player, he really looked after himself and was super fit.
“A really tough and uncompromising forward who you could just totally rely on. He would look after an area of the field and you wouldn’t have to worry about it. He also looked after the other players as well, he was tough and a player people loved playing with.”
Hooker: Howie Tamati
Rep honours: 23 Tests for New Zealand
“Howie had a really high workrate, he was before his time really. When you look at the workrates of some of the hookers now, which make people’s mouths open, well Howie was doing that 30-odd years ago.
“He always gave good service to his forwards. He was really reliable, tough as anything, his work around the park was just incredible.”
Prop: Dane Sorensen
Clubs: Cronulla, Eastern Suburbs
Rep honours: 18 Tests for New Zealand
“An absolute professional. You gave him a role and knew that he would look after that part of the game for you, you wouldn’t have to worry about it. Guys liked playing in the teams he was in, he was a very popular guy.”
Second Row: Mark Graham
Clubs: North Sydney, Wakefield
Rep honours: 28 Tests for New Zealand
“I have never seen anyone like him, Mark was basically in the first team I ever coached in the juniors at Otahuhu and to watch him sort of grow as a player and a man and a leader was special. He was unique.
“Had a really, really high workrate. The only player you could compare him to these days was Sonny Bill Williams. Same sort of physique and the same ability to offload as Sonny has. He was an aggressive defender too.”
Second Row: Kurt Sorensen
Clubs: Cronulla, Eastern Suburbs, Widnes, Wigan
Rep honours: 28 Tests for New Zealand
“Absolutely ahead of his time. Just his explosiveness. It was a different game back then but his explosiveness and the way he commanded attention when he got the ball were amazing.
“If he touched the footy then alarm bells went. If he was on the side of the field you were on then you just knew it was going to be a pretty painful experience getting knocked over by him. “
Lock: Ellery Hanley
Clubs: Balmain, Western Suburbs, Sydney Tigers, Bradford Northern, Wigan, Leeds
Rep honours: 36 Tests for Great Britain
“Named one of the best players of the 20th century, and for good reason, Ellery, I don’t think we have seen another player like him. There is certainly no-one playing now who goes anywhere near being what he was like. The first year I was his coach he scored nearly 60 tries. Who does that? And that was playing in the forwards.”
Interchange: Hugh McGahan
Clubs: Eastern Suburbs
Rep honours: 32 Tests for New Zealand
“A classic back-rower. This team has a number of leaders in it and he’s another, but in addition to that Hughie was very skilful with the ball. A good defender and another player who had that Sonny Bill physique. Had a magic offload and was powerful even though he wasn’t quite as big as a Mark Graham.”
Interchange: Kevin Tamati
Clubs: Widnes, Warrington
Rep honours: 22 Tests for New Zealand
“Wasn’t a big man by today’s standards, but he would stand up to the rigours of today’s game no problem. A really physical and dominating player and during a time when forwards really had to dominate each other, that was right up his alley. Had plenty of skill too, an offloader and a skilful guy along with the toughness.”
Interchange: Shaun Edwards
Clubs: Balmain, Wigan, London, Bradford
Rep honours: 36 Tests for Great Britain, 1 for England
“Shaun was brilliant. At 17 years of age he started at Wembley and he was just a great player. Had blinding acceleration. Came out and played a short stint in Australia but the conditions didn’t suit him, which was a real shame because we never got to see how good he was. A fantastic try-scorer and an out-and-out pro who played hundreds of games.”
Interchange: Cliff Lyons
Clubs: North Sydney, Manly, Leeds
Rep honours: 6 Tests for Australia
“He had balance, better balance than many players. He was like a bigger version of Johnathan Thurston. A very, very rugged player. Very rarely got hurt and his skill factor was among the best we have ever seen I think.”