My best New Zealand rugby league team of the past 50 years…with a little something extra!


For no particular reason, here are what I think are the best New Zealand team to have played the game since 1970.

The selection criteria are quite simple – the player must have played at least one Test for New Zealand since 1970.

But as always, there is a twist. Players who have also represented another country as well as New Zealand are not eligible!

Here is the team. Test match appearances for the Kiwis are in brackets.

1. Matthew Ridge (25)
Ridge gave up a fledgling career with the All Blacks to join Manly in 1990 and proved to be one of the best full-backs in the game over the next decade.

A highly accurate goal-kicker, solid defender, excellent with the ball and a fierce competitor, Ridge went on to score 168 points for the Kiwis and captain his country.

2. Dane O’Hara (36)
O’Hara played almost every game for the Kiwis between 1978 and 1986 and even captained the wing side twice in 1980.

A winger with every skill, O’Hara resisted offers to play in Australia and became one of Hull FC’s greatest ever players, scoring 116 tries in 271 appearances for the club.

3. Dean Bell (26)
Bell was a powerful ball runner and tough defender who was rated one of the best players in the world in the late 80s.

He played 360 games at the highest level, won seven consecutive Challenge Cup titles with Wigan and also won the Man of Steel award and the Lance Todd Trophy.

4. Roy Christian MBE (33)
Christian has played all his football in New Zealand and has played for his country 74 times, including 33 Test matches.

A solid center in the classic sense, Christian was part of the New Zealand squad for eight years and captained the Kiwis when he retired after the 1972 Rugby World Cup.

5. Sean Hoppe (35)
Hoppe has scored 17 tries in his 35 Tests and 117 tries in his 250 games at the top level. He had the power, speed and determination to threaten any defense and won three Super League titles and a Challenge Cup with St Helens.

6. Benji Marshall (31)
Marshall was a bizarre player who was unstoppable in his time. He played nearly 350 games at the highest level, won a premiership with the Wests Tigers in 2005, was the Golden Boot winner in 2010 and captained the Kiwis between 2008 and 2012.

Marshall was one of the best players to ever play the game and possibly the greatest Kiwi of them all.

(Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

7. Stacey Jones ONZM (46)
If Marshall was the greatest Kiwi player of all time, then Stacey Jones is a very close second. Jones ruled the paddock during his 12-year international career and there was little he couldn’t do on the pitch.

He scored 170 points for the Kiwis and racked up over 300 games in the top division, setting records for points scored and games played for the Warriors along the way. He was named in the New Zealand Team of the Century (1917–2006).

8. Rubén Wiki ONZM (captain) (55)
A player who always led by example, Wiki was one of the most difficult players to play and was feared by opponents with any common sense.

He started life as a center but was even more effective once he moved to strikers, playing 311 games in the top tier and a record 55 Tests for New Zealand over a 13-year span , including 18 as captain.

He won a premiership with the Raiders in 1994, was the first New Zealand-born player to play over 300 games in the NRL and was named in the New Zealand Team of the Century (1917–2006 ).

9. Isaac Luke (43)
Luke apparently only had one piece of equipment once he ran onto the pitch and he certainly played well above his weight, especially when representing his country when the red haze often descended.

A top-flight dummy midfielder and tough defender, Luke was also an excellent goal kicker and scored over 610 points during his 14-year career in the top flight.

10. Quentin Pongia (35)
Pongia never gave the opposition an even break and kept the rage going for the full 80 minutes.

He was an old-school forward rower, one of the best defenders in the game, and loved to control the middle of the ruck. He won a premiership with Canberra in 1994 and captained New Zealand in five Tests in 1998.

11. Stephen Kearney ONZM (45)
Kearney was a destructive ball runner and had some silky ball game skills to go with it.

He captained his country aged just 21 and was no stranger to success, having won a premiership with Melbourne, a Challenge Cup with Hull FC, a World Cup and a Four Nations Championship for his country.

Stephen Kearney

(Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

12. Marc Graham (29)
Graham was one of the best strikers in the game in the early 80s and was a born leader, captaining North Sydney and leading New Zealand on two tours to England.

He was named in the New Zealand Team of the Century (1917–2006) and also selected as the New Zealand Player of the Century.

13. Hugh McGahan MBE (32)
A highly mobile striker who knew the way to the try line, he was also a solid defender. He captained his country 15 times and was awarded the Golden Boot in 1987.

14. Gary FreemanMNZM (46)
Just shaded for the halfback role by Stacey Jones, Freeman is the perfect player to come off the bench. He was a tenacious and talented competitor who loved to take on the opponent, and he was never beaten until the final whistle.

He played 37 consecutive Tests for the Kiwis and won the Dally M in 1992.

15. Nathan Cayless (39)
Australian-born and former Australian Schoolboy representative, Cayless chose to honor his Maori ancestry and play for New Zealand, and was selected in their test squad aged just 21.

A robust and mobile forward rower, Cayless was a natural leader, both with the Parramatta Eels, whom he led in the paddock for 217 games, and with New Zealand, whom he captained to Cup victory. 2008 Rugby World Cup.

16. Kevin Tamati (22)
Tamati wasn’t the greatest striker to play the game, but he was one of the toughest and would make an impact playing off the bench.

He was totally fearless and liked to make it personal with his opponent, and you’d rather have him on your team than play against him.

17. Simon Manning (45)
There have been few better back rowers in the NRL era than Mannering, who spent 14 years with the Warriors and represented New Zealand between 2006 and 2017.

He captained New Zealand 11 times, winning all but two games, and was part of New Zealand’s victories at the 2008 Rugby League World Cup and the 2010 Four Nations Championship.

Let me know what you think.




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