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.