How Burgess, Taumalolo and Sonny Bill may one day reach the Hall of Fame

Sam Burgess is tipped to become the first Englishman inducted into the NRL Hall of Fame under new eligibility criteria which paves the way for the inclusion of foreign players, including Sonny Bill Williams.

Former New Zealand captain Mark Graham last week joined Ricky Stuart, Cliff Lyons, Steve Menzies, Gorden Tallis and Petero Civoniceva as the next batch of inductees but there will be further players added every four years under a new awards process announced by the NRL earlier this year.

Graham is the only non-Australian player among the 106 stars in the Hall, which includes the 100 chosen as part of the game's Centenary Year celebrations in 2008.

However, that is set to change with the likes of Burgess, England teammate Gareth Widdop, Tonga superstar Jason Taumalolo and Kiwis stars Shaun Johnson, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Simon Mannering expected to come under consideration in future selection years.

One-time NRL player Sonny Bill Williams.
One-time NRL player Sonny Bill Williams. ©NRL Photos

With nine of the current England squad playing at NRL clubs for next season following Ryan Hall's signing with Sydney Roosters and Canberra's recruitment of John Bateman, the number of eligible English players is set to grow.  

Williams will also be eligible for the Hall of Fame, despite having played 47 Tests for the All Blacks during two stints in rugby union after walking out on Canterbury in 2008 to switch codes.

He won premierships with the Bulldogs in 2004 and Roosters in 2013, with many believing he should have received the Clive Churchill Medal for his role in the 26-18 grand final triumph over Manly.

The New Zealand superstar, who redefined the role of the modern-day second rower after being signed by Canterbury as a 15-year-old, was later named the 2013 RLIF player of the year.

Burgess also briefly left the NRL after inspiring South Sydney to their first premiership in 43 years to play for England at the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

The 2014 Clive Churchill Medal winner, who also won the RLIF player of the year award in the same season, returned to the Rabbitohs in 2016 and his claim for a place in the Hall of Fame will strengthen if he can again help the club to grand final glory.

A 14-point metrics of excellence helped measure the careers of the 9827 players who have played at the elite level, including vision and kicking ability in attack, to defensive technique, leadership, tenacity and consistency, as well as achievements such as premierships, awards and representative honours.

To be eligible for inclusion in the Hall of fame, a player must have:

  • Competed in the elite premiership rugby league competition in Australia;
  • Played the majority of their elite rugby league career in Australia, and;
  • Retired for five years from competing in a professional sporting competition.

The criteria rules out English greats such as Malcolm Reilly, Ellery Hanley and Adrian Morley as they did not play the majority of their careers in Australia.

St George Illawarra prop James Graham is also yet to qualify as he played nine seasons for St Helens before joining the Bulldogs in 2012.

Kiwi legend Tawera Nikau also played more games in England with Castleford (165) from 1991 to 1996 and Warrington (59) in 2000 and 2001 than he did during stints with Cronulla (1995-97) and Melbourne (1998-99).

The introduction of the Warriors in 1995 and the decision to move the Super League season to summer in Britain has coincided with an explosion in the number of New Zealand and English players in the NRL.

Warriors greats Stacey Jones and Ruben Wiki were on a short list of 25 players from which the six latest inductees were chosen for the Hall of Fame, while Stephen Kearney was another to have come under consideration.

Johnson, who won the 2014 Golden Boot award as the world's best player, and Tuivasa-Sheck – the Warriors captain and a premiership winner with the Roosters in 2013 - are the current Kiwis players most likely to be discussed as Hall of Fame candidates after their careers end.

Taumalolo is in the same category after helping North Queensland to the 2015 premiership, winning the 2016 RLPA player of the year award and finishing equal first with Cooper Cronk in Dally M voting.

The star forward has turned international rugby league on its head after choosing to play for Tonga at last year's World Cup and inspiring others, including Andrew Fifita, to do the same.

He spearheaded Tonga to a defeat of New Zealand – the first time a tier two nation had triumphed over a tier one nation – and the Mate Ma'a fell just short of an historic World Cup final berth after losing the semi-final to England in controversial circumstances.

More than half of the England squad initially chosen for the recent Denver Test will be playing in the NRL next season, with Hall and Bateman joining Burgess, his brothers George and Tom, Graham, Widdop and the Raiders duo of Josh Hodgson and Elliott Whitehead.

Widdop has played his entire career in the NRL and was a member of the Storm's 2012 grand final winning team, while he is captain of the St George Illawarra team which has been at the top of the NRL ladder for all but one round this season and was runner-up in Dally M voting last year.

The Burgess brothers also meet the Hall of Fame eligibility criteria, while Hodgson is in his fifth season with Canberra after playing six years for Hull FC and Hull KR.

With two-to-four players set to be inducted to the Hall of Fame every four years, the earliest any current players could be considered would be 2026.

 

The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARLC, NRL clubs or state associations.