At the half-way mark of the season and considering positions held on the premiership ladder, it is hard to go past Canberra’s John Bateman as the current buy of the year.
Despite being a Test player, I must admit I didn't know a great deal about the former Bradford and
Wigan back-rower when the Raiders announced him as another Super League import.
It didn't take long to see that the stocky 25-year-old had plenty to offer and was clearly another astute overseas signing secured by coach Ricky Stuart on the back of compatriots Josh Hodgson and Elliot Whitehead.
Bateman's rugged approach on Canberra's right edge has added steel to a side that previously struggled to find exactly that when under pressure.
His migration continues a long tradition of Pommies plying their trade successfully in the Australian game, especially since the 1970s. They are a fantastic addition and it is always an energetic and enthusiastic debate as to those who have had the greatest impact.
Like many I still rate legendary hard man Malcolm Reilly as the best to grace our shores, arguably swayed by the fact that as a kid I was the staunchest of Manly fans. He joined the Sea Eagles with a no-holds-barred reputation and lived right up to it in a five year association that included two premierships.
There is a story that before his first game for his new club, Reilly approached captain Fred Jones and in his broad Yorkshire accent enquired: "Oooaye Fred, who best player in t’other team?"
The wily hooker informed him that it was the five-eighth, "their number six". Sure enough, when taking his opening carry the opposing playmaker was cleaned up by Reilly with a well disguised forearm and sent into Disneyland and onto a stretcher. Apparently as he was being carried off Malcolm again approached his skipper and asked: "Oooaye Fred, who second best player?"
His competitive nature was carried into coaching and Newcastle Knights players still speak with some reverence as to how he would push himself during his four seasons in the Hunter. In his 50s, he still desired to lift the heaviest weight, do the most kilometres on the rowing machine and would rather burst a lung than fail to swim the furthest in the underwater pool challenge.
After leaving Manly he was replaced by fellow Englishman Steve "Knocker" Norton who I had the honour of playing alongside in my year-and-a-half with Hull FC. Being regarded as a Reilly "clone" was the ultimate compliment and behind Arthur Beetson, Knocker was the most skilful forward I ever played with.
Whilst Manly enjoyed a wonderfully successful English connection (including Phil Lowe, Gary
Stephens and Kevin Ward), the Tigers have also reaped a rich harvest over many years.
It began with crafty halfback Dave Bolton steering Balmain to their huge upset 1969 grand final victory over South Sydney. Soon after, the telepathic relationship between Brian Lockwood and David Topliss took centre stage. The magic, no-look flick pass from the ball-playing prop to his supporting five-eighth close to the line was their much-anticipated speciality.
If Reilly is considered the best forward to come Down Under then Ellery Cuthwyn Hanley has
strong claims to be the best back.
"The Pearl" had an almost mesmerising effect at Leichhardt in 1988 and was on the way to helping the Tiges to their first title since '69 until Terry Lamb famously intervened.
In 1990 he was awarded an MBE by the Queen for his service to rugby league and in 2007 was voted the greatest British player of all time. The club also received great service from the likes of Garry Schofield, Lee Crooks and Andy Currier, whilst Gareth Ellis was the joint venture's player of the year for three straight seasons.
In more recent times it has been Adrian Morley, Sam Burgess, James Graham and Gareth Widdop
who have kept the Union Jack flying. I rate Slammin' Sammy alongside Jason Taumalolo as the best
forward in our game. John Bateman is making huge inroads in that pursuit.