Best signings of the NRL era

The Super League war of the mid 1990s saw an unprecedented movement of players. From this time onwards, club loyalty seems dead with players maximising the most of a 10-15 year career window. It is very rare to have a local Redfern junior representing South Sydney these days. Only two clubs can really have a claim on local junior production lines with Penrith Panthers having a huge talent pool from Sydney’s west, while the large majority of kids in Queensland support the Brisbane Broncos. What makes things extremely complicated for clubs though is that there are scouts everywhere.

Today I have put together a list of the best signings from each club of players that had already played first grade, since 1998. There might be some forgotten heroes amongst this list!

Broncos: Peter Wallace

They have the luxury of being the Queensland capital (2 million people, one club town) as it’s talent base and many other regional Queensland kids happy to move to the big smoke to represent the six time premiers who have both facilities and celebrity status. The Broncos have faired rather poor with big names – Barba and Bird are two examples who have ‘failed’. Their best success story is a ginger from Sydney’s west. Peter Wallace spent six years at the Broncos and he played for NSW 4 times while representing the Broncos. Either side of that stint he was a reliable player each and every week for the Panthers, but his peak was at Brisbane.

Bulldogs: Michael Ennis

A serial pest on the field but a competitive beast. Robbed of a 2006 premiership earlier in his career due to injury, but fortunately retired in 2016 a winner at the Sharks. However it was his five seasons at the Bulldogs where he was at his best. Ennis made multiple NSW appearances and led the Bulldogs to two grand finals in the space of three years during his six seasons at Belmore. Other club stints were at Newcastle, Dragons, Broncos and Sharks.

Ennis the Menace. Source: Alchetron

Cowboys: Johnathan Thurston

I won’t waste time justifying how good JT's move from Bulldogs to NQ was. One of the best to ever do it.

Dragons: Wayne Bennett

In a 34-year coaching career Wayne Bennett has always had the cattle. After six premierships at the Broncos, he arrived at the Dragons in 2009 and delivered a long-awaited premiership to their legion of loyal supporters. Uncle Wayne did this by motivating and bringing together a talented squad, and bought in some personal favourites of his in Boyd (at his peak before his hammies went) and the uncompromising Jeremy Smith.

Eels: Clint Gutherson

The pain still hurts me when I read the Manly media statement from 2015 that they had released Gutho. For years I had read about his qualities and talent representing junior NSW teams. He debuted in the same game as Jake Trbojevic in 2013, and with some injuries and talented outside backs ahead of him (Brett Stewart, Matai, Lyon, Tafua and Hiku) he was biding his time. Manly extended his contract at the start of 2015, but later in the year released him to the Eels…what a big mistake! Manly went backwards for a few years while King Gutho, with his natural leadership has had Parramatta building. They are real chance of breaking a 34-year drought. Gutherson is a real trier and at 25, an exceptional club captain.

Knights: Ben Kennedy

Andrew Johns was calling the shots and had a wonderful support case act Buderus, Gidley and O’Davis. What the signing of Ben Kennedy in 2000 brought was a player is his prime who was a forward back leader. The Knights won the 2001 competition and while he had his injury struggles, when fit, BK was one of the first names on the NSW and Australian team sheets.

Panthers: Luke Priddis

The Panthers have developed so many juniors that a star signing was a struggle to think of, but I do remember Priddis debuting at the Raiders before three good seasons at the Broncos. At the Panthers he was a durable premiership winning hooker, who played 162 games over 7 years before retiring at Dragons. He represented NSW three times and made 1 appearance for Australia, prior to the rise of Cameron Smith.

Rabbitohs: Greg Inglis & Sam Burgess

Greg Inglis was the most credentialed player on this list when he moved from the Storm to the Bunnies to start the 2011 season. GI was an absolute superstar for QLD and Australia, four time grand finalist, Daly M winner, Clive Churchill medal winner, he had done it all! Moving to the Bunnies, he became the face of the club and in 2014, delivered the foundation club a long overdue premiership. Since his arrival at the Souths, they have progressed from easy beats to a “Big 4 club”. Arriving one year before Inglis was Sam Burgess, he played 182 outstanding games for the Bunnies. Never taking a backward step, the big pom made sure Souths were a feared forward pack.

Raiders: Josh Hodgson

Canberra is a great little city; well organised and some fantastic Australian artefacts. Shame about all the politicians and bureaucrats. The other challenges for footballers in their 20s, there isn’t a lot to do and training sessions are ice cold. Ricky Stuart has found his solution – recruit the best of Britain. Josh Hodgson has played 108 outstanding games for the Raiders and earlier this season was given the wrap (prematurely I think) that he was better than Cam Smith. With him directing the side from hooker, the Raiders are genuine Premiership contenders in 2020.

Without Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, would the Roosters have won 3 of the past 7 premierships? The best prop of the NRL era and the clubs most important signing.

Source: The Australian

Roosters: JWH

Cronk, SBW, Maloney and Keary are all great signings, but when I started this list the first name that came to mind was Jared Waerea-Hargreaves and what he has achieved for the Roosters. For many years, the club attempted to get the forward pack leader (mainly by poaching from the Bulldogs but it failed, think Mason, Myles, O’Meley). JWH had moved to Australia as a talented golfer, yes golfer, then played Rugby Union post school, before signing with Manly and making 6 appearances. Stuck behind Kite, King, Perry, Rose and with the club having a salary cap squeeze, he took his opportunity at the Sydney Roosters. 215 games, each and every week he gives the pack steel and aggression. He would lay claim to being the best prop during the NRL era too. The simple saying is backs can’t win you games, unless the forward pack goes forward. JWH has delivered the Roosters three premierships and who's to say they can't make it 4 out of 8 in 2020.

Sea Eagles: Ben Kennedy

Yes a double up! In their 70 year history, Manly has often tasted success, however with the merge of Norths and Manly, they were in dire straits. The great Des Hasler took over in 2004 and BK was signed in 2005 with many pundits thinking due to injuries he was washed up. This was not the case, with BK playing inspirational football over 42 games and leading Manly to a 7th place finish in 2005 before 5th in his final season in 2006. The club then competed with (salary cap cheating Storm) for premierships before the rise of the Roosters.

BK certainly wasn't washed up and transformed Manly giving them a great culture and platform to build on. Source:

Sharks: James Maloney

Cheeky James Maloney will never have to worry about having a BBQ alone after he delivered the Sharks a maiden premiership title in 2016. Jimmy was always on the move throughout his career, but wherever he went he was a winner. The Sharks had been attempting to win for 50 seasons and with Jimmy in the side, they finally did it.

Storm: Glenn Lazarus

The “Brick with Eyes” is the only player in history to win premierships with three separate clubs. In 92 matches with the Raiders (1987-91) he won two premierships and contested a further two grand finals. Lazarus then moved to the Broncos, leading their pack with 118 matches and winning another three premierships. To finish his career, he signed with the Melbourne Storm, again leading them to a premiership in just their 2nd season. Since their inception, the Storm has always been successful, only missing the finals three times (one of those was when all points were stripped due to salary cap breaches). Lazarus set a benchmark of early competitiveness for the ‘club of rejects’ , and that legacy continues today for every player to wear the purple.

Tigers: Scott Prince

As a teenager he burst onto the scene at the battling Cowboys in the late 90's before becoming a marquee signing for the Broncos to replace Alfie Langer – unfortunately some horrible injuries meant 28 games (mostly from the bench) and Prince’s career was at risk of drifting into obscurity. He signed a three year deal at the West Tigers and formed a beautiful partnership with young rookie, Benji Marshall. As they say, the rest is history. 73 games in three seasons meant he had overcome his injury curse, and in 2005 he delivered the merged club its first premiership. During his stint at the Tigers, Prince debuted for both Queensland and Australia. He later signed a long-term deal at the Titans, before having one last season at the Broncos to finish with 300 club games.

Titans: Mark Minichiello

What a stalwart this bloke was for the Titans. Entering the competition in 2007, the Titans have struggled. Two near misses of the Top 8 were followed by consecutive Top 4 appearances in 2009 and 2010. Games record holder (173), Mark Minichiello, played an 8/10 game every single week for the club. Jai Arrow, had he not been moving to Souths in 2021 would have been my choice but he doesn’t have the longevity of mini.

Warriors: Steve Price

Since entering the competition in 1995, the Warriors have been an enigma and in many ways a disappointment. The signing of an aging Steve Price proved a masterstroke though. During his five seasons (2005-2009), he was a regular for QLD and Australia until his retirement. The club went through a rebuilding phase and then made two finals appearances with Price before the legacy he left, meant the club had its best two years, finishing Top 4 in 2010 and being the Minor Premiers & Grand Finalists in 2011.


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