Wednesday, Dec 8, 2021

Which was the greatest NRL rookie class in the 2000s?

New millennium. New faces. Same old selection debates. After naming a side of debutants from each season of the noughties, it’s time to decide which..


New millennium. New faces. Same old selection debates.

After naming a side of debutants from each season of the noughties, it’s time to decide which class of first-gamers takes home this era’s rugby league rookie cup.

Teams’ rankings in the 1990s were often defined by gaping holes or massive imbalances on the team sheet; squads with three great fullbacks but no capable halves, or four rep-level props and zero specialist wingers.

The table in the 2000s, on the other hand, is defined more by the presence of superstars, who naturally congregate at the pointy end of the top five.

And that’s not to say the sides that missed out are slouches… well, besides maybe the class of 2006.

Tenth: 2006
1. Darius Boyd (captain), 2. Michael Gordon, 3. Brett Morris, 4. Chris Lawrence, 5. Taniela Tuiaki, 6. Ben Roberts, 7. Rangi Chase, 8. Sam Rapira, 9. Isaac De Gois, 10. Luke Douglas, 11. Dave Taylor, 12. Gavin Cooper, 13. Adam Blair, 14. Adam Cuthbertson, 15. Zeb Taia, 16. Matthew Bell, 17. Stuart Flanagan, coach: Ivan Cleary

The class of ‘06 are wooden spooners by a long way. A couple of good players sprinkled among solid first-graders can’t compete with the wall-to-wall rep stars that populate most rival squads.

Darius Boyd of the Broncos.

(Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

Ninth: 2007 
1. Jason Nightingale, 2. Shaun Kenny-Dowall, 3. Josh Morris, 4. Will Chambers, 5. Israel Folau, 6. Blake Green, 7. Mitchell Pearce (captain), 8. Tim Grant, 9. Issac Luke, 10. Scott Bolton, 11. Ben Te’o, 12. Sika Manu, 13. Frank Paul Nu’uausala, 14. Mitchell Aubusson, 15. Sam Tagataese, 16. Ryan Hinchcliffe, 17. Chris Houston, coach: Brad Fittler

An impressive back five might not see enough quality ball outside a forward pack that will be outmuscled by many rivals. Decent line-up to be running second-last, though.

Eighth: 2008
1. Ben Barba, 2. Jordan Rapana, 3. Jamal Idris, 4. Akuila Uate, 5. David Williams, 6. Wade Graham, 7. Chris Sandow, 8. Ben Matulino, 9. Jake Friend (captain), 10. Sam Moa, 11. Tony Williams, 12. Joel Thompson, 13. Kevin Proctor, 14. Lachlan Coote, 15. Andrew McCullough, 16. Aiden Tolman, 17. Matt Prior, coach: Ian Millward

There’s a lot of ‘what might have been’ about this squad. They’ll sizzle when it’s their day and fizzle when it’s not.

Seventh: 2001
1. Matt Bowen, 2. Luke Lewis 3. Brent Tate, 4. Steve Bell, 5. Luke Rooney, 6. Kurt Gidley (captain), 7. Michael Monaghan, 8. Jason King, 9. Mark Riddell, 10. Anthony Laffranchi, 11. Corey Parker, 12. Mick Crocker, 13. Paul Gallen, 14. John Morris, 15. Iafeta Palea’aesina, 16. Sione Faumuina, 17. Micheal Luck, coach: Michael Hagan

That mongrel back row ensures they won’t be bullied, and the weapon at fullback ensures they’ll spit out plenty of highlights. The rest of the spine is the concern.

Paul Gallen Sharks

(Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Sixth: 2005
1. Greg Inglis, 2. Wes Naiqama, 3. Beau Scott, 4. Steve Matai, 5. Brad Tighe, 6. Jamie Soward, 7. Jarrod Mullen, 8. David Shillington, 9. Peter Wallace, 10. Ben Hannant, 11. Nate Myles, 12. Sia Soliola, 13. Simon Mannering (captain), 14. Brett White, 15. Greg Eastwood, 16. Nigel Plum, 17. Berrick Barnes, coach: Shaun McRae

These hard-hitting hombres will leave plenty of bruises on their opponents, but they need a little more velvet complementing the sledgehammer to earn a spot in the top five.

Fifth: 2009
1. Josh Dugan, 2. Gerard Beale, 3. Jarrod Croker (captain), 4. Blake Ferguson, 5. Jharal Yow Yeh, 6. Kieran Foran, 7. James Maloney, 8. Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, 9. Ben Hunt, 10. James Tamou, 11. Josh McGuire, 12. Alex Glenn, 13. Trent Merrin, 14. Lewis Brown, 15. Shaun Fensom, 16. Chris McQueen, 17. Leeson Ah Mau, coach: David Furner

The first elite halves pairing and a gun pack distinguishes the class of 2009 from the teams below them on the ladder. The three-quarter line distinguishes them from the teams above.

Fourth: 2004
1. Karmichael Hunt, 2. Manu Vatuvei, 3. Sonny Bill Williams, 4. Reni Maitua, 5. Sam Perrett, 6. Todd Carney, 7. Cooper Cronk, 8. Matt Scott (captain), 9. Jeff Robson, 10. Fuifui Moi Moi, 11. John Sutton, 12. Anthony Tupou, 13. Jeremy Smith, 14. Tom Learoyd-Lahrs, 15. Bronson Harrison, 16. Feleti Mateo, 17. Terry Campese, coach: Des Hasler

If coach Hasler can keep them on the straight and narrow, they’re guaranteed a final or two before one almighty Mad Monday.

Todd Carney at the Raiders.

(Photo by Stefan Postles/Getty Images)

Third: 2003
1. Billy Slater, 2. Brett Stewart, 3. Matt King, 4. Jake Webster, 5. Luke Covell, 6. Benji Marshall, 7. Robbie Farah (captain), 8. Chris Heighington, 9. Mick Ennis, 10. Sam Thaiday, 11. Glenn Stewart, 12. Ryan Hoffman, 13. Dallas Johnson, 14. Dene Halatau, 15. Mick Weyman, 16. Keith Galloway, 17. Frank Pritchard, coach: Nathan Brown

This team sheet is stacked with great players — but they’re not perfectly distributed across the park. If they could swap one of their two great fullbacks — or one of their two very good hookers — for a specialist halfback or a pair of top wingers, they’d have a better chance of rattling the top two.

Second: 2000 
1. Anthony Minichiello, 2. Pat Richards, 3. Mark Gasnier, 4. Matt Cooper, 5. Justin Hodges, 6. Jamie Lyon, 7. Matt Orford, 8. Jason Ryles, 9. PJ Marsh, 10. Luke Bailey, 11. Andrew Ryan (captain), 12. Willie Mason, 13. Braith Anasta, 14. Ben Hornby, 15. Josh Perry, 16. Brad Meyers, 17. Carl Webb, coach: Trent Robinson

This is the most even team one to 17 — four Kangaroos on the bench underline that. But there are no future Immortals, unlike the only side ranked above them.

First: 2002 
1. Brent Webb, 2. Matt Utai, 3. Willie Tonga, 4. Adam Mogg, 5. Nathan Merritt, 6. Lance Hohaia, 7. Johnathan Thurston, 8. Roy Asotasi, 9. Cameron Smith (captain), 10. Brent Kite, 11. Anthony Watmough, 12. Greg Bird, 13. Trent Waterhouse, 14. Joel Clinton, 15. Ben Ross, 16. Kirk Reynoldson, 17. Adam Woolnough, coach: Craig Bellamy

Smith. Thurston. Bellamy. Those three names make any further analysis redundant. These blokes just win stuff, including this minor premiership.

Cameron Smith of the Storm is chaired from the field

(Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

Week 1

Elimination final: fourth (2004) versus fifth (2009)
With 2009 pair Josh Dugan and Blake Ferguson spending the build-up at the Lennox Point Hotel, and opposition five-eighth Todd Carney resisting the urge to join them, the class of 2004 lives to fight another day.

Qualifying final: second (2000) versus third (2003)
The first debutant class of the new millennium might have a better pack and a deeper bench, but Billy Slater, Brett Stewart and Benji Marshall run riot for a Week 1 boil-over.

Week 2

First semi-final: qualifying final loser (2000) versus elimination final winner (2004)
With one eye on that epic end-of-season bender, the party animals of 2004 bow out to the class of 2000. The victorious Willie Mason will be gutted not to join them.

Second semi-final: first (2002) versus qualifying final winner (2003)
Smith. Thurston. Bellamy. Game over.

Johnathan Thurston

(Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

Week 3

Preliminary final: second semi-final loser (2003) versus first semi-final winner (2000)
By the time this rematch of the qualifying final rolls around, Brett Stewart is wondering why he’s playing on the wing and Robbie Farah is sick of wearing the seven.

And despite coach Nathan Brown trying to slap some sense into them on the sideline, it’s not enough to stop the more consistent class of 2000 booking their berth in the decider.

Week 4

Grand final: 2002 versus 2000 
There are lots of compelling arguments in favour of the class of 2000.

Club combinations across the park: Mark Gasnier and Matt Cooper in the centres, Jamie Lyon and Matt Orford in the halves, Jason Ryles and Luke Bailey up front, plus Andrew Ryan, Willie Mason and Braith Anasta at the back of the scrum. Four Kangaroos on the bench. Coach Trent Robinson holding the clipboard, if we can bend the eligibility rules to include a playing rookie rather than a coaching one.

But there’s no betting against Thurston, Smith and Bellamy. They’ve polished more silverware than the staff at Buckingham Palace and they’re adding the rugby league rookie cup to their collection.

Next up, I’ll name a 17-man team bringing together the best players of this decade. Spoiler alert: there’s a distinct Queensland theme.


By: The Messenger
Title: What was the best NRL rookie class of the 2000s?
Sourced From:
Published Date: Fri, 13 Aug 2021 16:15:03 +0000

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