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JT crowned best headgear hero of the modern era

It's the most iconic rugby league accessory of the modern era - Johnathan Thurston's headgear.

After nearly 14,000 votes, Thurston has been crowned the best of the headgear-wearing brigade of the past 30 years, earning half the votes to street the field from Manly legend Steven Menzies and Knights star Kalyn Ponga.

As more players have taken to wearing headgear in recent years it has become both a vital piece of protective equipment and a fashion statement all in one.

And for all the lucky fans who've been handed headgear by the likes of Thurston and Jarrod Croker after matches, it's a souvenir they'll treasure forever.

Players' sponsors have taken to designing different coloured headgear for different occasions as well as the standard black and white models.

Thurston has been at the forefront of the push to wear headgear with his innovative designs encouraging junior players to protect their noggin while playing the greatest game of all. recently launched the search 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 advertisement for the Telstra Premiership, and is calling on the fans to have their say on a range of topics on the modern era.

In keeping with the Simply The Best theme of previous top 10s, to be eligible for this list a player had to have strutted his stuff between 1990 and 2020 and been an iconic figure both for his footballing ability and his trademark headgear.

Such was the strength of these heroes in headgear, names such as Dan Stains, Michael Porter, Terry Matterson, Nigel Plum, Alan Tongue, Nathan Friend and Jonathan Docking missed out on the initial 10-man shortlist.

Best headgear hero of the modern era

(names appear in alphabetical order)

Mark Carroll

As tough as any prop to have played the game, Carroll is perhaps best remembered for his fierce battles with Knights prop Paul Harragon. As well as playing 185 matches for Penrith, Manly and South Sydney, Carroll played seven Origin matches for NSW and made nine Test appearances for Australia.

Mark 'Spudd' Carroll makes a fearsome sight as he powers ahead for Souths.
Mark 'Spudd' Carroll makes a fearsome sight as he powers ahead for Souths.

Jarrod Croker

For more than a decade this unassuming champion has packed the kitbag each weekend with a lime green jersey and a white headgear.

Jarrod Croker's white headgear is synonymous with the Raiders.
Jarrod Croker's white headgear is synonymous with the Raiders.

By the time he is finally finished rewriting Raiders records, Croker's headgear will be as iconic in the national capital as Big Mal's arm guard, Steve Jackson's lunge and Jason Croker's loyalty.

Like JT, Croker loves nothing better than making the day of a young fan by gifting them his Madison headpiece when full-time comes.

Daryl Halligan

In an era when headgear was more prevalent then it is today, Halligan was a consistent user of it.

What he was also very consistent at was scoring points. In 230 career matches for North Sydney and Canterbury, Halligan amassed 2034 points, including 80 tries.

He also scored 137 points in 20 Test appearances for New Zealand.

Daryl Halligan plunges in for a try for the Bulldogs.
Daryl Halligan plunges in for a try for the Bulldogs.

Steve Menzies

The legendary 'Beaver' was famous for his tryscoring prowess, his combo with Cliffy Lyons, his loyalty and … his headgear.

Week after week, season after season, at Brookie or Belmore, the SFS or ANZ, the Sea Eagles centre turned back-rower would scout wide and bust defences open with that distinctive running style and black headgear bringing crowds to their feet.

So famous was Beaver's Albion headwear it was immortalised in bronze after he retired from the NRL in 2008.

Sea Eagles legend Steve Menzies.
Sea Eagles legend Steve Menzies.

Kalyn Ponga

As if to put an exclamation mark next to his name in this top 10, Ponga was simply devastating in the Knights' win over Cronulla on Friday.

At 22, Ponga has the rugby league world at his dancing feet and it will be a joy to watch him torment defences for the next decade.

The freakishly talented Knight and Maroon is a hero to thousands of kids who will all be asking mum and dad to buy them the same sort of headgear Kalyn wears so they can whack it on and try to emulate him in the backyard.

Knights superstar Kalyn Ponga.
Knights superstar Kalyn Ponga. ©Shane Myers/NRL Photos

Steve Renouf

Who could ever forget 'The Pearl' flashing down field at the SFS in 1992 to wrap up the Broncos' first ever grand final win with a 95-metre try for the ages?

Or gliding along the same patch of turf two years later for the Maroons as he played his part in one of the most famous Origin tries ever scored?

Poetry in motion in headgear.

Steve Renouf in full cry for the Maroons.
Steve Renouf in full cry for the Maroons.

Matt Sing

What Matt Sing lacked in size he more than made up for with courage and determination.

Played 12 Test matches for Australia, 24 Origin games for Queensland and 275 matches for the Panthers, Roosters and Cowboys.

Matt Sing on the move for the Cowboys.
Matt Sing on the move for the Cowboys.

His 159 career tries has him tied with Hazem El Masri in eighth played on the all-time list. Once his playing days in Australia were over he spent two years playing for English club Hull FC.

Darren Smith

One of the best utility players of the modern era, Smith played seven Test matches for Australia and made five appearances for the Australian Super League team. At Origin level, he represented Queensland 22 times.

As a club player, Smith had the strange situation of spending two different stints and both Canterbury and Brisbane.

In total, he made 295 appearances, a great return for someone who started wearing headgear after suffering a bad concussion in 1991.

Darren Smith rips in for Brisbane in the 1998 decider.
Darren Smith rips in for Brisbane in the 1998 decider.

Jamie Soward

The red and white, the blue and black, the All Stars version, the pink … Sowie had all varieties covered during a 12-year career which included three Origins for NSW, two trips to the finals with Penrith and one magical premiership season with the Dragons in 2010.

The feisty playmaker had sponsor Madison design his headgear especially to protect his ears and he wore it his whole career. "I think they do help with knocks and why not have that extra protection if it's available," he said in 2009.

Jamie Soward steered the Dragons around with great success.
Jamie Soward steered the Dragons around with great success.

Johnathan Thurston

By the time his epic career came to an end in 2018, 'JT' had become just as famous for what he did with his headgear after a game as he did during it.

The Cowboys, Maroons and Kangaroos icon put smiles on faces of fans from Townsville to Melbourne and all points in between by handing out his headgear to a lucky youngster before heading up the tunnel at full-time.

Could there be anything better than your very own piece a rugby league memorabilia delivered in person by one of the greatest of all time?

The man, the legend, the headgear... Johnathan Thurston.
The man, the legend, the headgear... Johnathan Thurston.

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


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