Dan Walsh, Staff Writer
We name 10 of the best to strap on the headgear while showing the rugby league world how it's done.
As with any number of players who choose to strap their melon with a protective apparatus, Renouf wore his trademark black Madison headgear at the insistence of the most influential of figures: his mum. As he tells the story in his 2006 biography The Pearl, Renouf turned in early one night after copping a knock in a bush footy in his home town of Murgon. Later that night Renouf was found sleepwalking on the front lawn, where he tackled his father to the ground enquiring "Where's my orange?" The future Broncos superstar was cleared of any head injury by doctors the next day, but a week later his mother Nerida bought him the headgear and made sure he wore it for every one of his 213 appearances with the Broncos, Maroons and Kangaroos.
It's the headgear that just won't quit. After an incredible 469 games across the NRL and Super League competitions, 20 Origins and 13 Tests, Steve Menzies, at the ripe old age of 40, couldn't resist dusting off the famous Albion headpiece for one more run at this year's Auckland Nines. So famous it was bronzed after Manly's 2008 Grand Final win, the Beaver's skull cap is one of the most enduring images of the '90s and 2000s, usually finding its way over the try-line for one of the 233 four-pointers Menzies scored in 20 seasons of top grade league.
JT has a skull cap for seemingly any occasion imaginable; weddings, birthdays, colonoscopies, you name it Thurston's got you covered. And when you're a future immortal of the game with a premiership ring, 27 consecutive Origin appearances and a slew of Man of the Match awards all won while wearing the protective lid, why not? The current Golden Boot holder certainly keeps the good people down Madison busy, requiring new headgear every week as he gives them away to lucky fans after each game he plays.
Not quite the first proponent of the 'scrumcap', (Souths winger Billy Cann is the first player on record as sporting headgear way back in 1908) but certainly the most revered of its early wearers, Dave Brown sprinting away for another try in a water-polo style lid was a common sight throughout the 1930's. Dubbed 'the Bradman of league' for his scarcely believable point-scoring feats, Brown still holds the records for most points in a match (45), most goals in a match (15) and most tries in a season (38), and in 2008 was named in the Roosters and NSW teams of the century.
The champion of little blokes everywhere, at just 76 kilos wringing wet the former Gold Coast, Cronulla and Panthers livewire and his famous headgear were a regular in highlights reels for over a decade with his off-the-cuff style keeping defences and often teammates guessing on a regular basis. Campbell's headgear even found its way into the spotlight in controversial circumstances in 2009, when the NRL banned the indigenous superstar from wearing an Aboriginal flag on his protective equipment as it contravened laws aimed at preventing product placement. Sanity eventually prevailed and Campbell was allowed to display his heritage as he wound up a glittering 267 game career that included a premiership with the Panthers and a Dally M Medal.
Smith decided to don the old leather and foam skull cap after suffering severe concussion in 1991 and never looked back, making his Origin debut a year later and going on to play 22 games in the maroon jumper. Dividing his loyalties between the Bulldogs and the Broncos with two stints at each club over a 14-year, 290-game career in the top grade, Smith famously found himself called up to Chris Anderson's touring Kangaroos squad in 2003 when his former Canterbury mentor felt a then 20-year-old Luke Lewis lacked the experience needed for the international game and plucked the 35-year-old Smith out of English Super League for the final Ashes test.
No rugby league throwback list would be complete without a representative of the mighty Illawarra Steelers, and local boy Brett Rodwell certainly fits the bill with 156 starts for the men of steel, as well as a hat trick in their 1989 Panasonic Cup semi-final win over Norths en route to one of the most famous games in the club's history, the 22-20 loss in the final to Brisbane. A worthy member of the headgear hall of fame, Rodwell was unceremoniously told he would have to look elsewhere by the Steelers in 1997 as they chased the signature of some up and comer at the Hunter Mariners named Kimmorley, and he finished up his career with two years at Souths. Nothing untoward about that you say, players get moved on all the time. Maybe so, but how many can say they've been given the old 'move along please' on Christmas Eve? "It wasn't the best Christmas present I've had," Rodwell told the Sun Herald's Danny Weidler of Illawarra CEO Bob Millward's surprise announcement. Talk about your lumps of coal in your stocking.
The mere mention of Rambo's name makes the eyes of rugby league fans glaze over as they fondly remember the most damaging player to ever strap a piece of leather to his head. Revered for his fearless head-on defence and damaging running game, Gibbs was a key fixture of Manly's 1987 premiership win over Canberra despite having already signed as a marquee player for the Gold Coast Giants as they prepared to enter the competition the following year. Gibbs failed to reach the same heights at the fledgling club as he was plagued by injury, though he did manage to get across the stripe in the club's historic first ever win, a 25-22 triumph over local rivals Brisbane.
The former Sharks and Tigers back-rower was one of the first forwards in the game to give his noggin a bit of extra protection, and will be remembered most for the uncompromising play that won him a start in Queensland's all-conquering 1989 side in his third season in the top grade. Stains went on to rack up 170 first grade games for the Sharks before making the move to Balmain as the Super League war raged during the mid '90s, and in 2008 donned the headgear again to take on former Bulldogs hard man Peter Kelly in a charity boxing bout that was won by Kelly on points.
Rounding out our headgear brigade is one half of Canberra's 'Mac Attack' – not the latest in partially gelatinated non-dairy gum-based beverages from the world's largest fast food chain, but rather a pretty handy attacking duo comprising the former Raiders half McLinden and his fellow headgear-wearing offsider Andrew McFadden (now coach of the Warriors). McLinden was hailed as the next big thing off the Raiders production line when he claimed the Dally M Rookie of the Year award in 1998, but never quite hit the heights predicted despite going on to play 165 first grade games for the Green Machine before leaving the NRL at the age of just 25 for a three-year stint in the English Super League.