Best signings NRL era Andrew Fifita

The Top 10 Signings of the NRL Era

Player movements in the NRL are more rampant than ever, with transfers going on 12 months a year these days.

It prompted us here at Rugby League Opinions to look through the many, many rocks, and find the diamonds, who stand out as the best signings of the NRL era.

For this list we’ve set some basic criteria that the player had to be an established NRL player prior to transferring.

So from bargain buys to culture changers, and men who literally delivered instant success for their new employers, we bring you the top 10 signings of the NRL era.

10: Steve Price (Canterbury Bulldogs to New Zealand Warriors)

Notable achievements after signing:
1 x Dally M Captain of the Year
1 x Dally M Prop of the Year

When Price arrived in Auckland for the start of the 2005 NRL season, the Warriors were coming off their worst campaign in club history, having won just six games and avoided the wooden spoon thanks only to points differential.

Over the next five seasons, the Toowoomba-born bookend would take the Kiwi franchise to the finals twice, kicking off a new era that would ultimately finish in a Grand Final appearance in 2011, after Price’s retirement. He was at his best in 2007, averaging a remarkable 195 metres per game across 23 appearances and picking up the Dally M Captain of the Year gong, after helping the Warriors to a fourth-placed finish in the regular season.

Most big name Australians head across to the Warriors and fail to live up to the hype, but that fact that Price became just the second ever player to earn Kangaroos honours while playing in Auckland, while also amassing a further 12 caps for Queensland, shows the Warriors saw the best of him.

9: Andrew Fifita (Wests Tigers to Cronulla Sharks)

Notable achievements after signing:
1 x Dally M Prop of the Year
1 x NRL Premiership

Based purely on value for money, it’s unlikely any deal on this list beats Cronulla’s scoop of Fifita.

After picking him up from the Wests Tigers in 2012, as a player with less than 50 NRL games to his name, the Sharks would witness the barnstorming New South Welshman become the premier prop in the game in the space of a few seasons. While an obvious talent at U20 level, few could have predicted Fifita would go on to reach the heights he has as a player.

Punted without ceremony by the Tigers in favour of Adam Blair, that recruitment decision will go down as one of that club’s worst, but for the Sharks, it was a stroke of genius.

8: James Maloney (Sydney Roosters to Cronulla Sharks)

Notable achievements after signing:
1 x Dally M Five-eighth of the Year
1 x NRL Premiership

Cronulla had waited 48 long years for their first Premiership title, and then James Maloney came along.

Obviously the plucky playmaker didn’t do it on his own, but Maloney played a major role in taking the Sharks to the next level in 2016, averaging a touch under nine points per game, with his accurate goal kicking getting Cronulla through a number of tight games that year. He also kicked two match-winning field goals in the regular season. Maloney had delivered instant success to another club just three years earlier, arriving at the Roosters and claiming the title in his first season, and will do down as one of Cronulla’s finest purchases, despite only staying in the Shire for two seasons.

Confident playmakers can make all the difference when the business end of the season comes around, and Maloney gave the Sharks a reason to believe they could win, when so many pages of the history books suggested otherwise.

7: Scott Prince (Brisbane Broncos to Wests Tigers)

Notable achievements after signing:
1 x Dally M Captain of the Year
1 x NRL Premiership
1 x Clive Churchill Medal

It’s just about the dream narrative – a signing who two years after putting pen to paper captains your club to its maiden Premiership, while picking up two of the game’s most prestigious individual awards along the way.

After a handful of seasons with the Cowboys and Broncos, where he battled against a horror run with injuries, Prince reunited with former mentor Tim Sheens at the Tigers in 2004, and midway through that season began building a halves combination with boom youngster Benji Marshall. Less than 12 months later they were arguably the competition’s most-potent halves pairing, driving the Tigers to average 28 points per game on their way to winning the title, with Prince voted the best player on the field in that Grand Final victory over the Cowboys.

The Mount Isa-born half arrived at the perfect time for the Tigers, and while with the club represented Queensland three times and became the Wests Tigers’ first ever Australian representative, earning two caps in 2005.

6: Ben Kennedy (Newcastle Knights to Manly Sea Eagles)

Notable achievements after signing:
2 x Dally M Lock of the Year
1 x Dally M Captain of the Year
1 x RLPA Player of the Year

His stint on the Northern Beaches may have only lasted two seasons, but Kennedy’s impact at Manly continued to be felt for several years after his departure.

With the Sea Eagles still reeling from the disastrous Northern Eagles venture, Kennedy arrived at Brookvale Oval in 2005 having played a key role in Newcastle’s period of dominance at the turn of the century, and immediately led the Sea Eagles to their first play-off berth in six seasons. The hard-running lock was recognised as the best player in his position in both years with Manly, while in 2006 he also picked up the Dally M Captain of the Year and Rugby League Players’ Association Player of the Year gongs.

But it was his role in instilling a winning culture at Manly which made him such a valuable pick up. From the year he arrived, Manly would go to the finals on 10-consecutive occasions, winning the Premiership twice, and becoming the most consistent challenger to the all-conquering Melbourne Storm in that time.

5: James Graham (St Helens to Canterbury Bulldogs)

Notable achievements after signing:
1 x RLIF Prop of the Year
1 x Dally M Prop of the Year
2 x NRL Grand Final appearances

Following a mass of forward departures at the back end of the 2000s, the Bulldogs desperately needed a tough-as-nails prop to build their pack around in a new era under Des Hasler.

Enter James Graham, one of the finest Super League imports the Australian game has ever seen, and a man who repaid the Bulldogs’ investment in him over and over again. The Bulldogs built a large chunk of their game plan around Graham, with the one-time Man of Steel winner frequently used as one of the team’s primary ball handlers, in addition to getting through a big load of defensive work and carries in the middle of the park. In his first year with the club, Graham was named the world’s best prop, and two seasons later picked up Dally M honours in the position.

Like a couple of other players on this list, Graham drove a culture change after signing, and while that can’t be measured in statistics, it’s no coincidence that Canterbury made the finals in all but one of Graham’s six seasons there, including two trips to the Grand Final.

4: Craig Wing (South Sydney Rabbitohs to Sydney Roosters)

Notable achievements after signing:
4 x NRL Grand Final appearances
1 x NRL Premiership

As if being kicked out of the competition in 1999 didn’t cause enough pain for South Sydney fans, for the next eight years they were forced to watch one of their most talented juniors forge a stellar career with their bitter crosstown rivals.

Wing landed in Bondi after being left without a club for the 2000 season, and in his first year with the Roosters played 27 games, including that year’s Grand Final against Brisbane, scoring eight tries all up. His ability to play anywhere in the backline with competence quickly made him a valuable utility at club, state and international level, while he was also a world-class starting No.9. Wing helped the Roosters through to play on the final day of the season in four of his first five years at the club, winning a Premiership in 2002.

While he returned to Souths at the back end of his career, it was the Roosters who enjoyed the best of Wing.

3: Sam Burgess (Bradford Bulls to South Sydney Rabbitohs)

Notable achievements after signing:
1 x RLIF Prop of the Year
1 x RLIF Player of the Year
1 x Dally M Lock of the Year
1 x Clive Churchill Medal
1 x NRL Premiership

Not only is Burgess one of the best signings of the NRL era, he’s arguably the best English league player to ever ink a deal Down Under.

South Sydney knew they were onto a winner in 2010, signing ‘Surgess’ to a four-year deal right away, and even with having to pay the Bradford Bulls a compensation fee due to him still being under contract with the Yorkshire club, the purchase will be looked back upon as a relative steal, given what Burgess has gone on to achieve. Consistently the among the NRL’s best forwards since 2010, he hardly ever walks off the field at the end of the game having failed to reach the 100-metre mark in running yardage, and in defence he’s a tireless worker and ferocious hitter.

Burgess was one of the main reasons South Sydney made the 2014 Grand Final and was the best player on the field – despite running around with a fractured cheekbone and eye socket – as the Myrtle and Green ended their 43-year title drought.

2: Jamie Lyon (St Helens to Manly Sea Eagles)

Notable achievements after signing:
4 x Dally M Centre of the Year
3 x RLIF Centre of the Year
2 x Dally M Captain of the Year
2 x NRL Premierships

A controversial former schoolboy prodigy who Manly took an educated punt on, Lyon developed into the ultimate leader and centre at the Sea Eagles.

Manly fought off several NRL rivals for Lyon’s signature in 2007, with memories of his attacking brilliance at the turn of the century, which saw him earn state and international honours, and the fact Wee Waa product had been named the best player in the Super League two years earlier, making him hot property. After stints in the halves for Manly, Lyon became a dedicated centre in 2010 and for the five years which followed, he was far and away the best in the world in the position, winning Dally M Centre of the Year awards four times and picking up RLIF Centre of the Year three times. He was one of the key weapons in Manly’s title-winning 2011 season, scoring 154 points, as he picked up another Premiership to add to the one his claimed in 2008 with the Sea Eagles.

Lyon finished up having played over 200 games for the Sea Eagles, and sits in the club’s top five for most points, tries and goals.

1: Johnathan Thurston (Canterbury Bulldogs to North Queensland Cowboys)

Notable achievements after signing:
4 x Dally M Player of the Year
3 x Golden Boot
1 x NRL Premiership

He left the Bulldogs as a skinny hyperactive kid best known for offering Steve Price his Grand Final ring, and will leave the Cowboys as arguably the best player ever to set foot on a rugby league field.

When North Queensland signed Thurston as a 21-year-old at the end of 2004, the signs were there that he was an exciting prospect, but it would have been beyond their wildest dreams that he would go on to collect four Dally M Player of the Year awards and three Golden Boots in their colours. The Cowboys built their club around Thurston, with the lure of playing with the mercurial half drawing even more talent their way, and leading to a period of dominance which included back-to-back NRL Grand Final appearances in 2016 and 2017, the first delivering the club’s maiden title.

Natural brilliance aside, Thurston became the ultimate leader and competitor at the Cowboys, while the Bulldogs spent much of that same period searching for a long-term solution to their playmaking needs.

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