The Wests Tigers became a joint venture and first played in 2000. Aside from a remarkable premiership victory in 2005, even their most hardened fans wouldn’t argue that they’ve been a wildly successful club since that time. But their parent clubs; the Balmain Tigers and Western Suburbs Magpies, have rich histories stemming back to 1908, with a huge number of wonderful players who represented their country with distinction. For this exercise, we will count players from both foundation clubs and the joint venture.
Picking players across eras is never an exact science. An author can do all of the research in the world and still never be 100% sure about the selections put forward. Sure, there are some certainties for every team of this nature, but let this not end the debate; let it start one.
The main criteria is that each player has been selected on the strength of their performances for the club in question (not representative football and not for other clubs). They may have only been at the club for a short time, but if they’ve made The Best 17 Ever, it’s because of the undeniable quality that they produced during that time.
So let the debate begin!
1. Keith Barnes (Balmain Tigers, 1955-68)
Barnes played with and against some of the greats during his career with Balmain. Barnes was unlucky enough to play most of his career against an all-conquering Dragons side, so was never able to win a premiership. Barnes is best remembered as a Tigers stalwart, a goal-kicker with deadly accuracy and a fine leader who also captained and coached at an international level.
2. Tim Brasher (Balmain Tigers, 1989-97)
Brasher was predominantly a fullback but spent a significant portion of his career on the wing and would serve this side particularly well. Blessed with explosive pace off the mark and wonderful agility, Brasher was a constant threat to defensive lines and one of the best players in the world during the mid-90s.
3. Charles ‘Chook’ Fraser (Balmain Tigers, 1910-26)
Chook Fraser is one of the earliest legends the game ever had, winning 6 premierships during his illustrious career in which he went on to captain Australia on 3 occasions. He played 190 games for the Tigers, which was a club record for many decades afterwards.
4. Harry Wells (Western Suburbs Magpies, 1956-61)
Harry Wells was one of the finest centres of his era who played his best football with the Magpies in the late-50s. Unfortunately, he could never win a competition with them, but could win a competition earlier in his career with the Rabbitohs. Wells is a Hall of Fame member and is remembered as one of the greatest centres of his era.
5. Alan Ridley (Western Suburbs Magpies, 1931-36)
There's an abundance of great wingers who have plied their trade across the Balmain, Western Suburbs and joint venture clubs and more than a few would have looked at home on this list. Instead, we’ve chosen Alan Ridley, a huge winger from the 1930s who won a premiership with the Magpies and scored 64 tries in just 64 games.
6. Benji Marshall (Wests Tigers, 2003-2013 & Current)
This one probably seems strange, but hear us out! Vic Hey would take this position normally but he only played 26 games for the Magpies. His nearest competition was probably Pat Devery, who had a wonderful career in the UK, but only played 38 games for the Tigers. Marshall has played over 200 games for the joint venture, was key to the Tigers winning an unlikely premiership in 2005 and was awarded the Golden Boot award in 2010. Best known for having genius footwork and a natural flair for the game, Marshall is one of the greatest players to ever come from New Zealand and a pleasure to watch in full flight.
7. Keith Holman (Western Suburbs Magpies, 1948-1961)
Raised in poverty by a man who may or may not have been his actual father, and later an Aircraftsman during World War 2; Holman was as tough as they come, but his career almost didn’t happen because South Sydney turned him away, saying he was too small. Their mistake, as he would become one of the greatest players the world has seen (with Jersey Flegg remarking that he was the greatest halfback he had seen, and he’d seen 50 years’ worth). ‘Yappy’, as he was known, was the ultimate competitor, with fierce determination and a defensive hardness that belied his small frame. Apparently he was one of the nice guys as well. He was perhaps the most unlucky not to taste Premiership success, with his Magpies winning two Grand Finals when he was unavailable to play!
8. Steve Roach (Balmain Tigers, 1982-92)
People that have watched the game for many years will say Arthur Beetson is the greatest forward the game has seen, mixing aggression with consummate skills with ball in hand. They’ll also say Steve Roach was the closest that there has ever been to a Beetson clone. Roach’s career was mired with injury and controversy, but in Balmain’s last era of greatness before their merger, Roach was their cornerstone; striking fear into opponents and having the deft skill to pop a late offload or throw an inch-perfect pass to better placed support.
9. Ben Elias (Balmain Tigers, 1982-94)
Hard-working and crafty, Elias was the ultimate competitor. His battles with Steve Walters were the stuff of legend as each man tried to establish themselves as the greatest hooker of their generation. Walters may have just had Elias by a hair, but we’d love to see this battle resume when this team takes on the Raiders’ Best 17 Ever.
10. Noel Kelly (Western Suburbs Magpies, 1961-69)
Noel Kelly was named at Hooker in the Australian Team of the Century, so his inclusion at prop is probably a little surprising to some. A little-known fact about Kelly is that he split his career across the two positions and would be right at home roughing it with the big guys. In fact, I think he’d terrify them. Kelly would likely spend a lot of the season suspended in the modern era, but his aggressive style would have opponents running for the tunnel. Get him out there!
11. Kel O’Shea (Western Suburbs Magpies, 1956-63)
The North Queensland region is a traditional breeding ground for Rugby League, but there may be no greater North Queenslander than Kel O’Shea; the tall back-rower with the amazing left-hand fend. He ran the ball strongly with a surprising turn of pace (he was a centre in his youth), with impressive stamina and a desire to help with go-forward. He was a member of the Magpies club when they were runners-up 4 times to the magic Dragons of the 50s and 60s.
12. Arthur Beetson (Captain) (Balmain Tigers, 1966-70)
Arthur Beetson is arguably the greatest forward the game has ever seen. Although he only played 74 games for the Tigers in his career, he walks into this side. Can you picture a side with this forward pack, just quietly? Wow!
13. Wayne Pearce (Balmain Tigers, 1980-90)
Of all the players in this side, Wayne Pearce may have been the least naturally gifted (and with the team assembled, that is far from an insult). Pearce may just have been the most professional, revolutionizing the fitness and nutritional attention to detail required of the modern footballer. He was tough and had an amazing work ethic and was the spiritual leader of the Balmain Tigers during their last era of greatness.
14. Tom Raudonikis (Western Suburbs Magpies, 1969-79)
Raudonikis is the ultimate competitor. He’s mostly known for his obscure opinions and for being a big fan of footballers punching each other, but he was an extraordinary leader of men and a wonderfully tenacious halfback in his own right. Would bring skills and plenty of mongrel off the bench.
15. Paul Sironen (Balmain Tigers, 1986-98)
Sironen was a huge forward with the athleticism to play in the back row but the toughness to play up front, who played almost 250 games for the Tigers. Sironen’s versatility and toughness would be invaluable off the bench.
16. Arthur Clues (Western Suburbs Magpies, 1943-46)
Arthur Clues was a back rower that has been named among the 100 finest footballers of the first 100 years. He had a phenomenal career in the UK when that was the strongest competition in the world. He was also a very accomplished cricketer, which would have made him a weapon at the team bonding days!
17. Les Boyd (Western Suburbs Magpies, 1976-79)
A team that has both Les Boyd and Noel Kelly in it sounds like the most terrifying team imaginable. Boyd was never afraid to roll up his sleeves and do the tough stuff and had impressive versatility across different positions in the forward pack.
And that’s the team, not too bad, huh? How would they go against other teams named in this series? It’s hard to see too many teams getting the better of this lot! Who did we miss? Let us know in the comments below and stay tuned for the best 17 ever for all the other clubs.