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Best of British: Burgess voted top UK import of modern era

Of the many great British players to have called the NRL home over the last 30 years, Sam Burgess is the last man standing in the quest to find the best.

A premiership winner and mainstay of the English teams over more than a decade until his retirement last year, was the popular choice as the pick of the bunch.

More than 85,000 votes were cast for the honour via the poll in this story and the NRL's official Facebook and Instagram accounts to decide once and for all who is better than all the rest.

After the recent departure of James Graham to the Super League, it was timely to search for the best player to come from the UK in the modern era.

Farah and Kimmorley praise James Graham's stellar NRL career recently called on the fans to vote for the Simply The Best players from 1990 to now to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the iconic Tina Turner promotional campaign, which was again featured in this year's Telstra Premiership advertisement.

The newsroom initially narrowed the list of British candidates to 10.

Such was the depth of talent we could not find room for the likes of Canberra forward Elliott Whitehead, the Burgess twins - Thomas and George, "the Welsh Wizard" Jonathan Davies, Andy Platt and Knights premiership-winning hooker Lee Jackson.

Simply the Best British players 

(in alphabetical order)

John Bateman

The most recent entrant in this list has only played a single full season in the NRL, but he made an instant impact with the Raiders in 2019 as Canberra climbed from a 10th-place finish the previous year to grand finalists.

Raiders back-rower John Bateman.
Raiders back-rower John Bateman. ©Gregg Porteous/NRL Photos

Blessed with energy, aggression and a tireless engine, Bateman quickly established himself as one of the best back-rowers in the league.

Denis Betts

A powerful second-rower, Betts spent three years playing for the Warriors (1995-97). A former Man of Steel award winner, Betts also played 36 Test matches for both Great Britain and England.

Denis Betts during his Warriors stint in the mid 1990s.
Denis Betts during his Warriors stint in the mid 1990s. ©NRL Photos

Most of his club career was spent at Wigan, where he was part of a wonderful era for the Cherry and Whites. His arrival at the Warriors was viewed as a major coup for the club and the NRL.

Sam Burgess

The Rabbitohs made some blockbuster signings ahead of their renaissance as a premiership force in the 2010s, but arguably none were more influential than Burgess.

Souths stalwart Sam Burgess.
Souths stalwart Sam Burgess. ©NRL Photos

Slammin Sam was a fearsome leader of the pack who won the Dally M Lock of the Year in 2014 before an inspirational Clive Churchill Medal-winning performance in that year's grand final win. 

Gareth Ellis

One of the game's great warriors, Ellis's time in the NRL was four years (2009-2012) with the Wests Tigers. During the time, the veteran of 33 Test matches for Great Britain and England won respect from all fans for his uncompromising style of play.

Gareth Ellis on the run for Wests Tigers in 2010.
Gareth Ellis on the run for Wests Tigers in 2010. ©NRL Photos

In English club football, Graham played 361 matches for Wakefield Trinity, Leeds and Hull FC. He was also named the RLIF Lock of the Year in 2008 and the RLIF Second-rower of the Year in 2009 and 2010.

James Graham

Graham arrived in Australia in 2012 having already played 225 matches for St Helens. In his seven-plus years in Australia, he became one of the most respected players in the game.

Players pay tribute to Graham

He played 135 matches for the Bulldogs and 51 for the Dragons, taking his career tally above 400 - a tremendous achievement for a front-rower. Add in 53 Test matches, Man of Steel, RLIF Prop of the Year and Dally M Prop of the Year awards, and you have some indication of the accomplishments of the Liverpool-born great.

Ellery Hanley

In his prime, Ellery Hanley was arguably the best rugby league player on the planet at a time when his contemporaries were the likes of Wally Lewis, Mal Meninga and Peter Sterling.

Ellery Hanley during his second stint as a Balmain Tiger.
Ellery Hanley during his second stint as a Balmain Tiger. ©NRL Photos

Hanley had four stints in Australia - a memorable finals run with Balmain in 1988, a quick stop with Wests the following year then a further two years with the Tigers in the mid 1990s. 

Josh Hodgson

As tough as he is skilful, Hodgson has made a tremendous contribution to the NRL. After playing 136 matches in England for Hull FC and Hull Kingston Rovers, he arrived at the Raiders in 2014.

Raiders hooker Josh Hodgson.
Raiders hooker Josh Hodgson. ©David Hossack/NRL Photos

He's made 114 appearances for the Green Machine, leading the side to a 2019 grand final appearance. Hodgson has also played 22 Test matches.

Adrian Morley

At his peak, Morley was arguably the most feared man in the NRL. A no-nonsense prop known for his aggressive defence and powerful ball-running, Morley played 113 games for the Roosters between 2001 and 2006.

English forward Adrian Morley.
English forward Adrian Morley. ©NRL Photos

The highlight was the 2002 premiership win. He also played 47 Test matches as well as stints with Leeds, Bradford, Warrington and Salford.

Martin Offiah

One of the game's greatest entertainers, "Chariots" was one of the most-watched, and talked about, Englishmen to have ventured to Australia in the last 30 years.

British winger Martin Offiah was the epitome of pace.
British winger Martin Offiah was the epitome of pace. ©NRL Photos

After playing for the Roosters in 1989, Offiah returned for St George in 1991 before playing one match for the Roosters in 1993. He scored 20 tries in his 27 matches in Australia, and more than 400 during a stellar career in England.

Gareth Widdop

A gifted fullback and five-eighth, Widdop played 195 NRL matches for the Storm and Dragons. Injuries marred the final years of his career, but when fit was a top-shelf playmaker.

Dragons five-eighth Gareth Widdop.
Dragons five-eighth Gareth Widdop. ©Robb Cox/NRL Photos

He amassed 1003 NRL points via 43 tries, 412 goals and seven field goals. Has also played 29 Test matches.

Acknowledgement of Country

National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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