Be they from other NRL clubs or from overseas, there are few better curveballs in the middle of a season than a team adding a player they hope will prove the missing piece in the puzzle.
From the cameo appearances of the likes of Ellery Hanley and Kevin Ward in the 1980s through to the 2021 moves of Reece Walsh and Tevita Pangai jnr, mid-season signings are always welcomed.
With that in mind, the experts at NRL.com have had their say on which mid-year pick-up has most impressed them.
Experts' view - Best mid-season signing
My significant signing would be Gary Connolly, who signed for the Bulldogs in 1993 hen made a massive impact for the short time he played at the club.
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Brett Kimmorley (Former Test halfback)
Tevita Pangai jnr. What a pick-up he could prove to be. He may be just the player Penrith need to put them over the top and help them win the 2021 premiership.
I feel like when I did it (in 2007), it was the best move of my career. But it was definitely not the best ever mid-season switch. I am a massive advocate for it because it gives players a chance to be able to play regular first grade and increases the talent pool.
Robbie Farah (Wests Tigers)
Reece Walsh. He has had an instant impact with the Warriors this year and the best is yet to come. He looks as though he will be a top player for the next decade.
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He may not have been the flashiest player, but Brett Finch had a pretty incredible 2009. He left the Eels to join the Storm midway through that season. From there he became an important part of the Melbourne machine that would go on to beat his former club in the 2009 grand final. Not a bad move at all.
Ellery Hanley. No player has had a greater impact on the fortunes of a team in such a short period as Hanley in 1988. The British superstar joined Balmain for the last three rounds of the season and helped the Tigers to a fifth-place play-off and then a fairytale run to the grand final. Balmain were leading 6-4 against Canterbury when Hanley was knocked out midway through the first half and they lost 24-12.
There were questions around Matthew Ridge when Graham Lowe plucked him out of New Zealand rugby about whether he'd be up to the pace of the premiership. The Kiwi fullback quickly proved he had the pace, strength and smarts to not only survive but thrive in the big league while also revolutionising goal-kicking in the 1990s.
Salary cap saga that followed aside, Brett Finch’s revenge mission on the Eels in 2009 is a memorable one. His departure from the Eels for Melbourne midway through the season allowed Greg Inglis to return to the centres and Finch came back to haunt his old side with two try assists in the 2009 grand final.
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Tough English prop Kevin Ward was, for all intents and purposes, a pick-up twice in the one season for Manly in 1987. He first appeared for Manly in round 13 of that year and played until round 24 (with just one loss). He then returned to England only to fly back for the grand final. There, he helped Manly to a win over Canberra on a warm Sydney day. Chapeau.
After two years playing rugby in France, Mark Gasnier returned to his spiritual home at the Dragons with nine rounds to play in the 2010 season and three months later was a premiership winner. Gasnier’s centre combination with Matt Cooper was a feature of the Red V’s charge through the finals.
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"Ellery eats celery!" Balmain's singlet-wearing, shadow-boxing superfan Laurie Nichols would yell from the sideline when the England centre Ellery Hanley ran on the field. Ellery also ate up opponents as he provided the spark for the Tigers to go on a six-game winning run that saw them qualify for the grand final after signing on for a guest stint in 1988. And it's still a mystery whether it was a Terry Lamb tackle or the SFS turf that put him in the arms of Morpheus in the decider.
The one that jumps out to me is Mark Gasnier. For the Dragons to add a player of that calibre at the time they did and for the price they did, rounded out the backline brilliantly in what turned into a premiership-winning season.
Chris Walker. Mostly for the story, even if it is disturbing. Walker signed with Souths in 2003 at the peak of his powers. He lasted five games before being released, a day after a madcap dash to attend the Logies with then-girlfriend Kate Ritchie in Melbourne. He joined the Roosters on a pittance, playing in two consecutive grand finals and scoring 24 tries in 39 games. Walker later revealed his move across Anzac Parade prompted death threats, which he raised with Wayne Bennett. "If someone is going to kill you, they never tell you first," was the sage advice.
The Dragons were already flying when prodigal son Mark Gasnier returned midway through 2010 after a stint in French rugby, but the fleet-footed centre was a key part of the joint venture’s maiden premiership. Who could forget his sensational putdown from a Jamie Soward kick to open the scoring against the Roosters in the grand final?
Jamie Soward couldn’t lock down a regular spot at the Roosters when the Dragons snapped him up in mid-2007. He’d really come back to bite the Tricolours in the following years, leading the Dragons to a 29-0 thrashing of the Chooks on Anzac Day 2009 (the year he was named Dally M Five-Eighth of the Year) before helping guiding the Red V to a drought-breaking grand final win over the Roosters a year later.
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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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