Raindancers - Daniel Viles' All Star Rugby League Team

THE RAINDANCERS Ė RUGBY LEAGUE

 

This team is made up of my favourite rugby league players. I would, of course, manage the team and occasionally take the field to make my Meninga-esque runs through the middle of the park before feigning an injury to hide my lack of fitness. Anyway, here is the side. The teams named in brackets are those whom they were playing for at the most prominent part of my memory of them.

 

 

1. Baker

 

2. Morris

 

 

5. Albert

 

3. OíConnor

4. Hughes

 

6. Blake

7. Alexander

 

13. van der Voort

 

 

12. Cleal

11. Muir

 

10. Harragon

9. Collins

8. Tunks (c)

 

 

Fullback: Neil Baker (Souths, Penrith)

After a month or so of the 1986 season, Souths coach George Piggins moved regular fullback Branko Djura to five-eighth and regular five-eighth Neil Baker to fullback. By the end of the minor premiership, Souths had finished second and Baker had used the extra space to pot 21(?) field goals for the year. The humble field goal has long been a fascination of mine in both forms of rugby. In my lifetime, Baker circa '86 was the king. He could play any position in the backline (he reappeared as a winger for Penrith in 1988), could kick goals from anywhere, and in my opinion, was good enough to play State of Origin if Garry Jack and Brett Kenny had not been so outstanding in their respective positions.

Right Wing: Steve Morris (St George, Easts)

This slippery winger, whose nickname actually was "Slippery", started his career as a halfback, but by 1985 was an untacklable winger for St George scoring tries almost at will. Was forgotten a little during St George's disappointing 1986 season, so he promptly changed to Easts for the 1987 season, where at 33, he was still the quickest winger in the competition and was still as hard to catch as ever. Why don't these sorts of players (the ones with flair) become coaches instead of the dour analytical types like Gould, Farrar, Meninga, etc.?

Right Centre: Michael O'Connor (St George, Manly, NSW, Australia)

Single-handedly won the first Origin match of 1985 scoring all 18 points for NSW in their 18-2 win at Lang Park. The best goalkicker in rugby league during the eighties. My favourite try of O'Connor's was a solo effort for St George in a 6-36 loss to Parramatta in the first ever match at Parramatta Stadium where he chipped over the main line of defence before regathering and doing the same to the fullback. One of the more creative players in rugby league during the eighties.

Left Centre: Mark Hughes (Newcastle, NSW)

Hughes is a player who doesnít look as good as he is because he plays in the same team as people like Andrew Johns and Matthew Gidley. Heís not far behind that league, though and was quite successful as a fullback at Origin level. He probably asked the best question in history at a press conference when before the 2001 Grand Final, he posed as a journalist and asked his coach, Michael Hagan, ďThere was a bit of conjecture over the Knights captaincy at the start of the year. With the benefit of hindsight, do you think that Hughes would have been the better choice?Ē Heís a Raindancer.

Left Wing: Darren Albert (Newcastle)

People remember Darren Albertís try in the 1997 Grand Final when he slipped of an Andrew Johns play and scooted through to secure the match. People donít remember that earlier in the season, he had to be taken to hospital after suffering hypothermia on a freezing afternoon at North Sydney. Thatís pretty heroic as comebacks go. I loved watching him glide past players over the tryline; he didnít have a bad step on him either. Itís a shame for Australian fans that he has played so much of his career in England. Come back anytime.

Five-eighth: Phil Blake (Souths)

I still don't know how Phil Blake missed out on the Rothmans in 1989. Every so often a player comes along whose skills make your eyes pop out. In 1979, that was Steve Mortimer; in 1999, it was Anthony Mundine; in 1989, it was Phil Blake. Another who could play anywhere in the backline, he preferred playing halfback, but the thought of Blake and Alexander teaming up in the halves to completely confuse brainless opposition forwards was too tempting an opportunity to pass up. No one had a clue what Blake would do next. Would he chip over your head? Or cutout pass to the winger? Or simply throw a small dummy and be ten metres behind you before you'd caught on? And still he missed Origin selection in 1989, in a year when the Blues lost 0-3!

Halfback: Greg Alexander (Penrith, NSW, Australia)

The one saving grace of the year of Super League was seeing Greg Alexander's performance in the opening tri-series match between NSW and Queensland at the Sydney Football Stadium, won 38-6 by NSW. That night, he put behind him the memory of his younger brother's death in a car accident in 1992, he put behind him his mid-career crisis spent at Auckland, he put behind him the fact that his name had not been mentioned in rep circles since 1991, and he played like the young man whose flair, unpredictability and extreme skill was captivating enough to make us actually watch a team that wore brown and white jerseys! Brandy, I salute you!

Lock: Colin van der Voort (Penrith)

I know what you're asking. If this Daniel Viles character values flair so much, what the hell is Colin van der Voort doing in his team? Well, when we're losing, someone's got to do the work. In the great Penrith side of 1991, the second row contained Mark Geyer, a loose cannon if ever there was one, and John Cartwright, a player not exactly known for backing down from an aggressive situation. Behind them was van der Voort. It never mattered if Geyer's brain was exploding, or if Cartwright was on a new mission for truth and justice, van der Voort was doing his job, tackling, taking hit-ups, supporting the ball carrier and generally staying out of mischief. Every side needs a Colin van der Voort, that's why I've got one.

Second rower: Noel Cleal (Manly, Country, NSW, Australia)

Sydney v Country, Newcastle International Sports Centre, May 1986. Country, as usual, was up against it. Late in the first half, Noel Cleal, who started the season as a centre until injuries decimated the Manly forward pack and he was re-modelled as a second-rower, grabbed the ball on halfway and charged into the Sydney forwards. He broke the line, the bearded maniac was off, busting the tackles of the defensive stranglers and closing in on Sydney fullback Michael Potter. The rest happened so quickly - a step, a fend, was there a fullback here just a minute ago? TRY TO CLEAL! A one-off performance? The next day at Brookvale, Manly played Canterbury, Potter's club. Guess what happened midway through the second half?

Second rower: Adam Muir (Newcastle, NSW, Australia)

1995, preliminary semi-final, Cronulla v Newcastle, SFS. Cronulla rushed to an 18-0 lead after half an hour. With half-time closing in, Newcastle was attacking the Sharks line. Muir took the pass from dummy-half and was taken in a ball-and-all tackle, the kind which envelopes your body and arms, not to mention the ball, in an Alcatraz-esque bundle, which makes it rather hard to explain how Muir's right arm reached behind his tackler and slipped the ball to the left, setting up an easy try for the receiver. The second half saw the same sequence of events only this time his right arm saw a white line just ahead of it. Newcastle won the match 19-18.

Prop forward: Paul Harragon (Newcastle, NSW, Australia)

There is an oft-used promotional photo for the 1997 ARL competition where two hideously huge prop forwards are standing with their faces pressed together, snarling angrily at each other. The one on the left is Manly prop Mark Carroll, the other is Newcastle's Paul Harragon. But Carroll was just a moronic league forward; Harragon was a leader of men. Perhaps Harragon's greatest contribution to rugby league was uniting the city of Newcastle in its fight against Murdoch-mania during "that" war. Arguably the most articulate prop in history, his statements usually made far more sense than those of John Quayle, Ken Arthurson or John Ribot and his triumph in leading the Knights to the premiership in 1997 (the city's bicentennial year) was a triumph for rugby league. By the way, he was a pretty awesome player too.

Hooker: Wayne Collins (Canberra, St George)

Hookers by nature are frustrating characters (e.g. Elias, Fenech, Kerrod Walters), but normally it's because it's the hookers job in this great sport to completely piss the opposition off by being a complete arsehole. Collins frustrated by skill. His role in the Dragons run to the 1992 and 1993 Grand Finals can never be undervalued. His most noticeable feature was his ability to take the dummy-half position on the fifth tackle, take a step to the left, and find touch with a thirty-metre left-foot grubber kick. I never remember a fullback positioning himself correctly for those kicks. Frustrating?!

Prop forward: Peter Tunks (c) (Canterbury)

In rugby union, prop forwards have a reputation for being overloaded with personality. Rugby League props, however, normally have an IQ lower than their jersey number. Peter Tunks, by this analysis, was playing the wrong rugby. His inspired captaincy of the 1988 Canterbury premiership side wins him the captaincy of this Raindancers side. In an interview for Big League magazine in 1988, he mentioned that he warmed up for big games by throwing darts into voodoo dolls of opposition forwards. This comment sent opposition forwards scurrying to look up "voodoo" in their girlfriend's dictionaries just in case this meant something bad. Tunks was also a skilful prop, able to offload in tackles at a time when this was not an expected skill for props, and actively led the defensive regimes designed by coaches Warren Ryan and Phil Gould. Just try getting past this Raindancers forward pack.

 

Replacement Back: Glen Burgess (St George)

In 1985, Burgess was a human bomb-disposal unit. Burgess was dazzling at flying above opposition chasers to take high kicks in the in-goal area, and then charging away from the defenders to give Steve Morris and Denis Kinchela a run down the touchline. In a year when the SCG was the venue for the high-flying leaping and marking of Warwick Capper for the Aussie Rules-playing Swans, Burgess showed equal leaping and catching skill in league, playing a vital role in St George's charge to the minor premiership. In 1986, the rules of rugby league changed to allow a 20 metre tap restart when a kick was caught by a defender in-goal. This reduced the number of high kicks in matches and Burgess was never as effective. I was a Canterbury supporter in 1985, but the Dragons deserved the premiership that year, and Burgess deserves a better place in rugby league history than he has been given.

Replacement Back: Ewen McGrady (Canterbury)

Ewen McGrady makes this team as a halfback but it was as a fullback for Canterbuy in 1991 that we all sat up and watched. His favourite play was to collect the ball after a kick downfield and throw dummies to the chasers before sprinting past them and making the opposition wonder why they had kicked the ball in the first place. He won the Rothmans that year (and Canterbury didnít even make the finals) but struggled afterwards, largely because opposition defences worked out that he probably wasnít going to pass the ball so just tackle him. He couldíve worked on that though. Itís a shame he didnít.

Replacement Forward: Paul Dunn (Canterbury)

Canterbury players always seemed to play much better for their club than for state or country. Dunn is one notable exception. His play at second-row and prop during 1986 earned him a spot on the unbeaten 1986 Kangaroo tour, where he was a test regular. He too had an incredible workrate and good skills for a forward, making him a vital part of Phil Gould-coached premiership sides at Canterbury and Penrith. Dunn is one of the more boring players needed to keep this side sane.

Replacement Forward: Tony Rea (Norths)

Tony Rea wasnít the flashiest player running around but he was extremely reliable and one of the best captains I ever saw. Even when he wasnít captain, he was a superb communicator and was able to keep the Bears focussed on the field. I donít think itís a co-incidence that Tonyís time at Norths was the clubís most successful for many years. He also covered himself in glory during a Battle of the Football Codes series on Sale of the Century! Raindancers pub trivia contests are always tough so Tony is a valuable addition to the team.

Coach: Wayne Bennett

I've never let myself like Queensland rugby league identities, but I must make an exception for Bennett. If I want this side to play a freestyle, flair-based game, there is only one coach to choose. As much as I hated who was doing it, the Broncos premiership sides of the 90s played some of the most beautiful rugby league of my lifetime, and Bennett's coaching style of flair based on discipline was to thank for that. In my book, Bennett's crowning moment was Tonie Carroll's try that stole the first match of Origin 1998 at the SFS. It started with a kick downfield from 10m out by Kevin Walters. The entire backline then combined to send Carroll over the line one tackle later. The sheer freedom of that try in such a pressure situation was pure Bennett. He didn't get enough credit for that moment.

 

 

For interests' sake, some other players I have liked who missed the side are listed here:

 

Fullbacks: Ivan Cleary, Steve Hampson, Brett Hodgson, Garry Jack, Brett Mullins, Robbie O'Davis, David Peachey, Rod Pethybridge, Michael Potter, Billy Slater, Andrew Walker, Rhys Wesser, Scott Wilson, Gary Wurth

Wingers: Nathan Blacklock, Sandy Campbell, Brett Dallas, John Ferguson, Ashley Gordon, Ian Herron, Pat Richards, Dale Shearer, Robin Thorne, Ricky Walford, Rod Wishart

Centres: Graeme Bradley, Ross Conlon, Mark Coyne, Steve Ella, Matthew Gidley, Ryan Girdler, Peter Jackson, Jarrod McCracken, Steve Renouf, David Smith

Five-eighths: Preston Campbell, Branko Djura, Greg Florimo, Michael Hagan, Brett Kenny, Michael Neil

Halfbacks: Jason Alchin, Des Hasler, Ivan Henjak, Andrew Johns, Stacey Jones, Greg Mackey, Barry Russell, Peter Sterling

Lock forwards: Jeff Hardy, Billy Moore, Tawera Nikau, Wayne Pearce, Ian Russell

Second rowers: David Barnhill, Wayne Chisholm, Kevin Hardwick, Steve Menzies, Tony Puletua

Props: Sam Backo, Martin Bella, Pat Jarvis, Glenn Lazarus, Paul Osborne, Tony Rampling, Kirk Reynoldson, Neil Tierney

Hookers: Wayne Bartrim, Michael Bolt, Ben Elias, Luke Priddis, Mark Riddell, David Trewhella

 

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