Sports

The best Sydney Roosters players who never played representative football

As for previous articles in this series, I will attempt to put together a quality team for each NRL club made up solely of players since 1980 who never went beyond club level. The criteria for selection is:

– No representing at senior level: internationals, State of Origin, Prime Ministers XIII, City vs. Country or All Stars.
– Current players are excluded.
– Players are only eligible for the club they played the most first grade games for.
– For players who straddle the 1970’s and 1980’s, 30 games after since 1980 is generally the cut-off to qualify.

The Roosters are particularly well-served by their spine, but they lack depth due to regularly stacking their side with imported rep-level talent.

Fullback: Luke Phillips (65 matches) – 2000-2002. 39 wins 25 losses. 19 tries 34 goals. 7 finals 4 wins

I loved this guy as a player. After a single appearance for Canberra in 1996, Phillips spent the 1997 Super League season with the North Queensland Cowboys and the following year with Manly before linking with the Roosters in 1998.

Over the next five seasons Phillips was a vital cog in the Sydney Roosters machine, playing in two grand finals, winning a title in 2002.

Despite losing to Brisbane in 2000, Phillips’ performance was such that he was considered unlucky not to receive the Clive Churchill Medal for best on ground. In 2002 Phillips played through the grand final with a serious shoulder injury that required 11 painkilling injections, and retired in 2003 without playing another game. He was just 27.

After his playing days were over, Phillips went down a path not travelled by many top-line players: the thankless role of on-field referee. He debuted in the NRL in 2010 and refereed until 2015, as well as spending time in the video referee’s box, the precursor to the bunker.

He now consults with clubs on refereeing matters. He also runs video arcade centres on the Gold Coast.

Wing: Jack Elsegood (77) – 1997-2000. 48 wins 28 losses. 35 tries. 7 finals 3 wins

The 1993 Dally M Rookie of the Year, Jack Elsegood played for Manly for his first four years, but didn’t quite kick on from his 12-try debut season (topping the Manly try-scoring that year). Even so, he still played finals in all four seasons for the Sea Eagles.

Elsegood then sign with Penrith but was barred by the Supreme Court from joining them having signed an ARL loyalty agreement. As a result he ended up at the Sydney Roosters

Elsegood moved to the Roosters in 1997 and makes this side by way of 77 game for the Tri-colours versus 72 for the Sea Eagles. Elsegood returned to form with Sydney and scored 34 tries in three seasons. He scored a double in the club’s heartbreaking one-point defeat to Manly in the 1997 preliminary final and backed that up with a try in the 1998 prelim, although this time the club was trounced by Brisbane.

After struggling to get on the field in 2000 and 2001 due to injury, Elsegood hung up the boots and took up motor racing. He is a winner and four-time runner-up in the Australian V8 Ute Championship.

Elsegood is the grandson of famous Newtown enforcer and police officer Frank “Bumper” Farrell.

Wing: Robert Miles (66) – 1997-2000. 40 wins 25 losses. 27 tries 1 goal. 3 finals 1 win

Robert Miles played 136 career first grade games for the Roosters, the Northern Eagles and Wests. He played in Sydney City’s 1997 and 1999 finals series. Miles’s best year was 1999 when he scored 15 tries in just 22 games, including four doubles, to top the team’s try-scoring.

Miles scored a try in the Northern Eagles’ last ever match and won a World Sevens title with Wests.

Centre: Ivan Cleary (81) – 1996-1999. 49 wins 30 losses. 29 tries 303 goals. 10 finals 4 wins

Coaching from the centres we have Ivan Cleary, who played 186 first grade games and scored 1363 points, making him one of the most prolific point-scorers to never play rep footy.

Cleary played two relatively anonymous seasons with Manly as a goal-kicking fullback stuck behind Matthew Ridge, appearing in a final in 1993, before joining North Sydney in 1994. He played finals both years with the Bears before moving to Easts.

Over the next four seasons Cleary alternated between fullback and centre. In his first three years with the Roosters, Cleary scored over 180 points each season culminating in a whopping 284 in 1998, breaking the season record held by Mick Cronin.

He played semi-finals in every year at the club, making it seven finals campaigns in a row since 1993. In 1997 Cleary scored 32 points across two finals to help the club reach a preliminary final.

He left the Roosters in 2000 to join the underwhelming Auckland Warriors. After an injury-ravaged first season he scored 173, then 242 points in 2001 and 2002, reaching a grand final in the latter year. All up, Cleary played finals in nine out of 11 seasons in first grade.

He also goes okay as a coach, and I hear his kid is pretty handy.

Ivan Cleary

(Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

Centre: David Smith (74) – 1987-1991. 28 wins 39 losses. 19 tries 120 goals. 3 finals 1 win

Not the NRL CEO, but a solid centre who played for the Roosters in the 1980s.

Smith started with a bang in 1987, playing 22 games and scoring 110 points as the club reached a preliminary final. He had a further two good seasons in 1988 (scoring 155 points) and 1989 before succumbing to injuries and form issues over the next two years.

In 1993 Smith left for Newcastle but struggled to cement a first grade position.

Five-eighth: Brendan Hall (159) – 1985-1995. 70 wins 81 losses. 30 tries 44 goals. 3 finals 1 win

Brendan Hall represented Australian Schoolboys in 1984 before debuting for Easts the following year. By the second half of 1986 Hall was the club’s first-choice five-eighth and he stayed that way when fit for the next decade.

This was not an especially successful era for the club, but Hall did get to play finals in 1987 as Easts finished the regular season in second spot and reached a preliminary final.

Halfback: Laurie Spina (99) – 1985-1989. 43 wins 50 losses. 11 tries. 3 finals 1 win

Ingham junior, Laurie Spina debuted at 19 in 1983 for Norths and spent two seasons as the club’s first-choice halfback. He joined Easts in 1985 and played very nearly 100 games for the club, highlighted by their run to the preliminary final in 1987. Spina scored a try in that game, eventually lost 32 to 24 to Canberra.

1987 was also the year when Spina played in a Queensland State of Origin trial: Queensland residents versus NSW residents, with long-time half Mark Murray having retired due to an eye injury. Despite having the better game he was unexpectedly overlooked for selection in favour of an unknown and underweight junior from Ipswich by the name of Allan Langer.

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Then during the 1995 Super League player ban, Spina was the only ARL-aligned Queensland half in first grade, but the selectors instead obtained a special exemption to use PNG’s Adrian Lam as the depleted Queensland team went on to secure an unlikely Origin clean sweep.

Spina left the Roosters for a final season with Cronulla in 1990, after which he left the big smoke and returned to Herbert River, aged just 27. The following year he captained North Queensland to victory in the 1991 Winfield State League in a team including Ray Gagai, Dane’s father.

Spina returned to captain the Cowboys in their first-ever season after four years away from the NSWRL before retiring.

He now owns a sugar cane farm. His son Ben in 2015 captained Queensland Residents to victory over NSW.

Lock: Gary Warnecke (59) – 1979-1984. 35 wins 21 losses. 11 tries. 6 finals 2 wins

Gary Warnecke played five seasons and three finals series for Easts, highlighted by starting at lock in their 1980 grand final loss to Canterbury. He had also scored a cracking try in the club’s 41-5 preliminary final demolition of Wests.

Warnecke over time became more of a five-eighth, and later spent a season at Wests in that position before finishing his Australian career and heading to England. He joined Oldham for three seasons, as a centre and five-eighth, and played against the 1986 touring Kangaroos. When Oldham was relegated to the Second Division in 1987 Warnecke stayed with the club and won a premiership with them.

On his run-on debut against the legendary ‘fibros’ from Wests in 1980: “I was a bundle of nerves, minding my own business, when (Wests prop) John Donnelly ran straight at me, spat in my face and said ‘You’re dead’. I was stunned… I s**t myself. He got to me.”

After that rather rugged start, Warnecke scored a try on debut as the Roosters won 14-7.

Second row: John Mackay (95) – 1976-1988. 42 wins 50 losses. 7 tries

John Mackay had a long career, playing for 13 seasons for Easts and Newtown in the 1970s and 1980s.

Mackay started with Easts in 1976 but after three seasons left the season before the club the 1980 grand final. Mackay spent three seasons at Newtown but missed their 1981 grand final through injury. He returned to the Roosters in 1983 and stayed for a further six seasons.

His son Shawn was a very promising rugby union footballer, captaining the Australian sevens side, before being tragically killed in a car accident while on a tour to South Africa with the ACT Brumbies, aged just 26.

Steeden football on the tryline

(Photo by Albert Perez/Getty Images)

Ian Barkley (58) – 1981-1983. 37 wins 19 losses. 19 tries. 4 finals 2 wins

After representing Australian Schoolboys in 1979 and being Newcastle Rugby League’s Rookie of the Year in 1980, Ian Barkley played three seasons for Easts in the early 1980s. In 1981 Barkley received the Frank Hyde Man of the Match on debut and was named the discovery of the year by the NSW Rugby League Writers Association.

That year Barkley broke into the Roosters’ starting line-up as they won the minor premiership before being knocked out in the preliminary final by Newtown.

After three solid seasons Barkley moved to Manly but unfortunately suffered a number of injuries and only played 26 first grade games for the Sea Eagles in four seasons. He did win the 1988 reserve grade premiership with the club.
Barkley’s final-ever game for the Roosters was his only career appearance on the wing and he scored a try in their loss to North Sydney.

In retirement Barkely owned a chemical manufacturing business with Bob Fulton. He also coached South Newcastle in the local competition.

Props: Martin Kennedy (66) – 2009-2013. 33 wins 32 losses. 4 tries. 5 finals 4 wins

Sticking to the on-field facts, 2007 Australian Schoolboys captain Martin Kennedy played 82 NRL games, mostly for the Roosters, splitting his time between the bench and a starting front row position.

He appeared in four finals for the club, most notably from the bench through their 2010 finals series, finishing with a grand final defeat by St George Illawarra.

In 2013 Kennedy got very close to a representative jersey, being picked as 18th man for Queensland.

After leaving the Roosters Kennedy spent a season with Brisbane, appearing from the bench in their 2014 qualifying final loss to North Queensland.

Moving off the field, he was set to return to the Roosters in 2015 but was banned for nearly three years for using prohibited drugs. He then turned to owning a reptile breeding facility called Snake Ranch. This led to more hot water for Kennedy as he was jailed for four years for illegal reptile smuggling.

Bruce Sinclair (50) – 1991-1994. 23 wins 24 losses. 1 try

Tamworth-born Bruce ‘Bruiser’ Sinclair was a bit of an honest journeyman, playing for Balmain, North Sydney and the North Queensland Cowboys, as well as his 50 matches over four seasons for the Roosters. Sinclair scored one single try in his entire 89-match career, in his last year for the Roosters in 1994.

After leaving the Roosters he became an early captain of the Cowboys in 1995, leading them four times, but retiring at the end of the 1995 season. In retirement Sinclair found himself up at Crescent Head, north of Part Macquarie.

Hooker: Simon Bonetti (142) – 1997-2002. 89 wins 50 losses. 2 tries. 17 finals 10 wins

Griffith product Simon Bonetti was an integral part of the strong Roosters teams around the turn of the century. Bonetti played finals with the club in every one of his six seasons, including in their 2000 and 2002 grand finals, losing to Brisbane before finally grasping a premiership in his final game for the club.

He was not a flashy hooker, scoring a grand total of only two career tries, but was the side’s defensive glue in the middle of the park.

Bonetti retired in 2002 after only six seasons in the top grade. He was just 25 years old and decided to return to the family farm in Griffith. He flirted with a return in 2013 to play for Italy in that year’s World Cup, but decided against it.

Bonetti’s first game for the Roosters was actually in late 1996, in an exhibition match against Manly played at the Olympic Stadium in Tokyo, Japan. The Roosters won the Revolution Cup (and probably still hold it). Bonetti did get to travel a bit with the code, also touring Fiji with the Junior Kangaroos that same year.

Bench

Mark Protheroe (89) – 1991-1995. 41 wins 46 losses. 28 tries.

Redcliffe junior Mark Protheroe played during a less than stellar period for the Roosters but still managed to carve out a reputation as a decent winger between 1991 and 1993. He then moved into the forwards and became a more than decent second rower.

After five years without seeing finals with the Roosters, Protheroe moved on to greener pastures, but ended up at the South Queensland Crushers instead, where he became one of the shining lights in an otherwise very ordinary squad that took out back-to-back wooden spoons.

After the Crushers sank, Protheroe stayed in Brisbane and won a premiership with Norths Devils in 1998.

Nathan Wood (78) – 1995-2000. 49 wins 29 losses. 17 tries. 7 finals 4 wins

Small in stature but big in ability, Nathan Wood played over 220 first grade games in Australia and England for Balmain, Sydney City, New Zealand Warriors, Wakefield Trinity and Warrington.

An ideal bench player, Wood played finals with the Roosters from 1997 to 1999 but by 2000 was out of favour due to the rise of Craig Wing.

After leaving the NRL, Wood enjoyed an excellent period in England, mainly for Warrington, where he was their starting half and scored at least 11 tries in each of his last three seasons. Wood enjoyed his time in England, celebrating one try by running off the ground and grabbing a hot dog.

In 2008 Wood appeared as a challenger in the TV series Gladiators.

Todd Byrne (62) – 2001-2004. 42 wins 20 losses. 31 tries. 5 finals 4 wins. 2003 grand final

There is basically no discussion of winger Todd Byrne in rugby league without also mentioning Scott Sattler, the man who made one of the most famous tackles in grand final history in 2003. Todd Byrne was on the other end of that play as the Panthers downed the Roosters in the decider.

But Byrne also played in the club’s 2002 finals campaign, scoring a double in their semi-final victory over Newcastle, before missing the grand final. He also scored a try in the club’s 38-0 thrashing of St Helens in the 2003 World Club Challenge. All up Byrne scored tries at a rate of one every two matches during his time with the club.

Byrne played nine seasons at the top level for the Roosters, the Warriors and Hull FC in England. In England Byrne moved to fullback and played in a Challenge Cup final with Hull in 2008, losing to St Helens.

Dallas Hood (72) – 1997-2002. 40 wins 31 losses. 5 tries. 2000 grand final

South port product Dallas Hood played six seasons for the Roosters, highlighted by an appearance from the bench in their 2000 grand final loss to Brisbane. He was also awarded the Clubman of the Year in 2001.

Hood finished his career with two seasons in the English Super League for Wakefield Trinity. I did find a Dallas Hood playing for Byron Bay in 2009 and I assume this was the man himself.

Back in 1995 while playing for the Southport Tigers, Hood played for the Queensland under 17s alongside a young five-eighth from Tugun called Ben Ikin and a halfback from way out at Roma Cities by the name of Darren Lockyer.
These days Hood is a life coach with Anglicare.

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