Is Rugby League in an era of elite halfbacks?

When you look through the history of rugby league each decade is seemingly dominated by two-three halfbacks who lead their sides to glory and turn the game on it’s collective head.

Bob Grant and Tommy Raudonikis ruled the roost in the 1970’s with Raudonikis staking his claim at the top of the pile until the 1980’s. The 80’s were a decade for two legendary halfbacks who led their sides to multiple premierships.

Peter Sterling and Steve Mortimer were the halfbacks at Parramatta and Canterbury respectively. Sterling, arguably the smartest player the game’s ever seen, led the his legendary team of Eels to four Premierships with Mortimer also doing the same at Canterbury. The two would regularly fight it out for NSW and Australian rep. duties.

The 1990’s saw the rise of Geoff Toovey, Ricky Stuart, Jason Taylor and Allan Langer. All four were immensley talented ball-players with terrific kicking games. Taylor retired as rugby league’s all-time leading point scorer: he currently sits third, behind Andrew Johns and Hazem El Masri.

At the turn of the millennium it was the great Andrew Johns who took over the mantle. Although debuting in the mid-nineties and winning a premiership, it was in the early 2000’s where Johns cemented his legendary status.

Leading the Knights to a second premiership in 2001 over the record breaking Parramatta Eels, as well as ushering in a strong period of NSW dominance. The Blues are yet to win a series without Johns at halfback. He became the eighth rugby league immortal in 2012.

Now, nearly halfway through this decade, the NRL is blessed with a number of talented halfbacks. Some who will go down as greats, others keen to cement themselves in rugby league history.

Johnathan Thurston took over from Johns as the game’s premier halfback, leading North Queensland to their first ever Grand Final, Queensland to an unprecedented length of dominance and Australia to two World Cup finals.

In the past two years though he has moved to five-eighth due to the retirement of the legendary Darren Lockyer.

Assuming the role of Australian halfback is Cooper Cronk. One of rugby league’s most consistent performers who has one of the greatest kick games that rugby league has ever seen.

Rising to challenge Cronk’s hold on the Queensland and Australian number 7 is Daly Cherry-Evans who, at the age of 25, has played in two Grand Finals, winning one, an Origin series, winning that and a World Cup which he also won.

Not quite on the same level as the three mentioned above is Shaun Johnson. The freakishly talented Kiwi debuted at the age of 20 for the Warriors and led his team to the grand final where they were defeated by Manly. Johnson has also cemented himself as New Zealand’s starting halfback.

Adam Reynolds is the most inexperienced of this group but, in his short two season career he has played in two preliminary finals. He has already been earmarked as a future halfback for the Blues, playing City Origin in 2013. South Sydney’s 41 year hunt for another premiership rests on his shoulders.

With that talented collection of halfbacks all still playing in the NRL would it be reasonable to assume that rugby league is in a golden era for halfbacks? For it is not like in years gone by when the older halfbacks are on the decline and the younger ones have pushed them out of the lime-light. 

Cooper Cronk is still the first choice halfback in Australia with Thurston the first choice five-eighth. Whilst Cherry-Evans has played for both his state and country he hasn’t pushed Cronk out of the side based on form, he’s either played off the bench or in lesser matches when Cronk has been rested.

And as an aside to this; will we see Cherry-Evans rise to the pinnacle of his game and face off against Reynolds in State of Origin in years to come, with Shaun Johnson leading the way for thee Kiwis? Only time will tell.