The Best Lock Forwards in Australian Rugby League History
From the pioneering era to the modern day, locks have always come in all shapes and sizes – perhaps more than any other position. Unsurprisingly, styles of the players that have worn the No.8 (pre-1989) or No.13 jerseys have differed greatly, but the finest locks have had a common thread of attributes.
Work-rate on both sides of the ball, great defence, a strong running game and better-than-your-average-forward ball skills are shared qualities of the following 10 players.
The top five or six locks virtually picked themselves, but the remaining four slots are filled by champions of the past 30 years, who narrowly tipped out the likes of pre-WWII legends Bill Cann and Reg ‘Whip’ Latta, and 1950s greats Harold ‘Mick’ Crocker and Les ‘Chicka’ Cowie.
Though he played plenty of football at lock – particularly for Australia – Brad Fittler was considered chiefly as a five-eighth in our positional series, while Ben Kennedy was the best of the NRL era to miss out.
10. Bob Lindner
Bob Lindner’s selection at lock in the Queensland Team of the Century in 2008 – the only Origin-era forward picked aside from Arthur Beetson – is a fair indication of his impact on the code, particularly at representative level. Injuries consistently hampered the Brisbane Souths star’s club career after moving to Sydney in 1987, but Lindner was an ever-present force for the Maroons, playing 25 of a possible 31 Origin matches after making his debut in 1984. The mobile, hard-running workhorse picked up two man-of-the-match awards and his seven tries – most the result of fierce determination – is a record for an Origin forward. He was also a dominant force at international level, playing 24 Tests from 1986-93 and being named player of the 1990 Kangaroo tour, his second trip to Britain and France. Tagged a mercenary during injury-hampered, low-value stints with Parramatta, Gold Coast and Wests that produced just 77 games in six seasons, Lindner finished his first grade career on a high with a Dally M positional award during his sole season at Illawarra in 1993.
9. Wayne Pearce
Arguably the most committed and professional player to grace Australian Rugby League during the 1980s, Balmain legend Wayne ‘Junior’ Pearce was a revolutionary figure in many ways and carved out a memorable career as one of the greatest back-rowers of all time. The tireless Pearce was an inspirational leader for the Tigers and captained NSW in 10 of his 15 Origin appearances – including the first-ever cleansweep victory in 1986 – while also representing Australia with distinction in 19 Tests. The archetypal workhorse lock, ‘Junior’s’ high involvement in attack and defence – however battered his body may have been – was a constant inspiration. Pearce’s 192-game career for the Tigers will always be set against the back-drop of heartbreaking defeats as captain in the 1988-89 grand finals, but that did little to diminish his status as one of the finest and most respected players of his era.
8. Corey Parker
Goalkicking lock Parker made his NRL debut in 2001, played a handful of Origin matches in ’04-05 and featured prominently in the Broncos’ ’06 premiership success. But he truly established himself as one of the game’s elite forwards in his second decade of first grade. Parker was named Rugby League Week Player of the Year in 2011 and ’13, earning a Queensland recall and a Test debut in the former season; he remained an automatic rep selection until his retirement in 2016, aged 34. A tremendous workhorse and dynamic in attack, Parker developed into a genuine leader – the 2009 and ’13 club Player of the Year was installed as co-captain ahead of the 2014 season, and led the club solo in his 2016 farewell campaign. Parker retired with 347 NRL appearances (including a Broncos record 1,328 points), 19 Origins and 13 Tests to his name.
7. Paul Gallen
Something of a late-bloomer who battled a reputation as an on-field grub for several years, Gallen developed into arguably the game’s best forward and an inspirational leader for Cronulla and NSW. The aggressive lock debuted for the Blues in 2006 and won the first of four club Player of the Year awards the following season. Gallen broke into the Australian side in ’08 and was a permanent fixture thereafter, making his 30th Test appearance in the 2013 World Cup final. A tremendous captain for NSW from 2011-16, Gallen led the Sharks to the finals in 2012-13 and helped negotiate the ASADA scandal, which ultimately left something of a black mark against his name. Gallen was named Rugby League Week Player of the Year in 2010, and has won the Dally M Lock of the Year award, the RLIF Lock of the Year award and the Harry Sunderland Medal twice each. He also collected the Wally Lewis Medal after leading the Blues to a long-awaited series win in 2014, playing the last of 24 Origins and 32 Tests in 2016. Nearing 300 games for the Sharks, Gallen’s crowning glory was his role as skipper of the Sharks’ maiden premiership-winning side in 2016. A phenomenal work-rate and an unbreakable will to win have been arguably his greatest attributes.
6. Ray Price
An eight-Test Wallaby, Ray Price went on to become one of the great union converts after joining Parramatta in 1976. He played the first of eight grand finals that year, and become an Australian and NSW staple from 1978, ultimately playing 22 Tests and 15 interstate games (including eight Origins) until his retirement from rep footy in 1984. Price’s toughness and unwavering commitment were his trademarks, but he was a superb all-round exponent of lock play, scoring 10 Test tries and crossing 78 times in 258 games for the Eels. The Rothmans Medal and Harry Sunderland Medal winner in 1979, Price won the Dally M Medal in 1982, starting a run of five consecutive Lock of the Year honours – a record for consecutive positional gongs – in the last five seasons of a decorated career. Price also finished second in the ’83 Dally M Medal count, and was named Representative Player of the Year in ’81 and Captain of the Year in ’86. ‘Mr Perpetual Motion’ retired as a grand final-winning captain after the Eels’ epic 4-2 defeat of the Bulldogs in the 1986 grand final.
5. Bradley Clyde
Bradley Clyde’s status among the great modern-day forwards and as one of NSW’s finest is unquestioned, though injuries and the Super League war curtailed his flourishing representative tenure, ultimately denying the Canberra superstar the opportunity to join the likes of Raper, Coote, Prigg and Burge in the very top echelon of Rugby League’s greatest ever lock forwards. Clyde combined a massive engine with an insatiable willingness to roll up his sleeves and do the hard yards in defence and with the ball in hand. But he possessed many more facets in his armoury – Clyde was incredibly mobile for a big man and a devastating ball-runner on the fringes, with the ability to position his outside support or offload in the tackle. Clyde won two premierships with the Raiders and collected two Clive Churchill Medal, including one on a losing side. A teenage Australian debutant in 1989, Clyde toured with the 1994 Kangaroos (injury ruled him out four years earlier) where he played the last of 19 Tests. He also played the last of 12 Origins in ’94 – aged just 24 – before the game’s great divide and persistent injuries stymied the back half of his career, which finished with stints at Canterbury and Leeds.
4. Ron Coote
Ron Coote’s selection in the second-row in the ARL’s Team of the Century is perhaps the most pertinent illustration of his greatness. St George’s Johnny Raper was an automatic choice at lock, but the long-striding Coote – Raper’s contemporary and successor – was too good to leave out of the side. A devastating ball-runner and the only cover defender in the game’s history that can compare to Raper, Coote played eight of his first nine Tests in the second-row before assuming the lock position for Australia in 1970, the year he captained Australia to a World Cup triumph. Coote’s influence can be measured by his extraordinary grand final record – from 1965-75, Coote featured in nine deciders (behind only Norm Provan and Brian Clay in premiership history). He won premierships with Souths in 1967-68 and 1970-71 before joining Easts, captaining the Roosters to a grand final defeat in 1972, and starring in back-to-back title triumphs in 1974-75 under Arthur Beetson. Awarded the Harry Sunderland Medal for his performances in the 1970 and 1974 Ashes series, Coote was named Player of the Year in E.E. Christensen’s Official Rugby League Yearbook a record four times (1968-69, 1974 and 1976). Coote’s ability to find the tryline is often overlooked, but with 13 tries he is the most prolific tryscoring forward in Australia’s Test history, despite a self-imposed representative hiatus from 1971-73.
3. Wally Prigg
The greatest lock-forward of the 1930s, Wally Prigg’s longevity was matched only by the quality of his play. Prigg revolutionised the lock role, combining typically tireless and stiff defence with a creative passing game – the first of the ‘second five-eighth’ style locks. He was also a dangerous runner and a superb support player. The Newcastle champion played his entire career in the region and became the first player to embark on three Kangaroo Tours, captaining the 1937-38 squad (the only player based in a NSW country centre to do so). His brilliant performance in the 10-3 third Test victory against England was perhaps his most famous, earning plaudits from the British press, before scoring a try in each of the two Tests in the historic series against France – the last of his then-record 19 appearances for Australia. Distinctive with his curly red hair protruding from headgear, Prigg played a record 34 interstate matches for NSW. His legacy as ‘Newcastle’s favourite son’ was honoured by his naming as captain of the Newcastle Team of the Century in 2008 ahead of Clive Churchill, while he was also named at lock in the NSW Country Team of the Century and as a reserve in the NSW Team of the Century.
2. Frank Burge
Australia’s greatest try-scoring forward and one of the most destructive ball-runners the game has known, Frank Burge stands over the history of the extinct Glebe club like a colossus. Burge’s strike-rate of 137 tries in 138 matches for the ‘Dirty Reds’ dwarfs that of even the most prolific modern-day wingers and fullbacks. A first grade debutant at just 16 in 1911, Burge topped the competition’s try-scoring table three times during the 1910s and scored a premiership record eight tries in a match against University in 1920 (he also added four goals for a then-record 32 points). Big, powerful and blindingly fast, ‘Chunky’ Burge scored 33 tries in just 23 matches on the 1921-22 Kangaroo Tour. He was unable to deliver a premiership for Glebe – runners-up finishes in 1911-12, 1915 and 1922 was the closest the club came to a title – but his influence was underlined during a one-season stint as captain-coach of St. George. The 32-year-old led the previous season’s wooden spooners to their maiden appearance in a premiership final, where they were defeated by South Sydney. A player ahead of his time, Burge’s focus on training and fitness – combined with the obvious advantage of natural ability – gave him a giant head-start over his rivals. Burge was named as a reserve in the ARL’s Team of the Century and at prop in NSW’s Team of the Century (despite playing predominantly in the back-row) during the 2008 Centenary celebrations, but he was unquestionably the greatest forward Australia produced during the code’s first half-century.
1. Johnny Raper
Johnny Raper’s mantle as Australia’s greatest lock-forward has never been questioned nor challenged, while there are many respected judges – including the doyen of rugby league callers, Frank Hyde – that assert the man known affectionately as ‘Chook’ is the best player the game has produced. His textbook defence – complete with trademark brilliant cover tackling – was without peer, while his instinctive skill in attack was equally awe-inspiring. Raper’s fitness and dedication to training was as legendary as his penchant for partying; rugby league has never had a more distinctive or loved character. He began his career with Newtown, but was lured to St George and won eight straight premierships with the club (1959-66); Raper captain-coached the Dragons for two seasons after their world record run ended and his contribution was recognised when the Men of League named him St George’s greatest-ever clubman as part of the Centenary celebrations in 2008. He was named the Sun Herald’s Best and Fairest three times and E.E. Chistensen’s NSW Player of the Year twice. Raper made his Test debut in 1959 against New Zealand and was an automatic selection until he bowed out of representative football as captain of Australia’s 1968 World Cup triumph. The 39-Test veteran toured three times with the Kangaroos, producing his most famous performance in the ‘Swinton Massacre’ that secured the Ashes for Australia on English soil for the first time in over half a century on the 1963-64 tour, while he captained Australia to victory in the deciding third Test on the 1967-68 tour. Lock in the ARL Team of the Century and one of the four original Immortals, Raper was one of a kind – as Frank Hyde said: ‘When Johnny Raper was born, they not only destroyed the mould, they pulped it.’