Reds’ rugby’s golden era top 50 – today No. 1-10
Queensland rugby golden era of 1980-2000 generated an army of champion players, prompting this series nominating the mighty Reds greatest 50 players from that time.
Today, we reveal numbers 1-10 in a top 50 players from that time.
Queensland's greatest player - but only just given the outstanding contributions of Mark Loane, Tim Horan, Paul McLean and Michael Lynagh. Famously nicknamed Nobody because nobody is perfect, the Marist College Ashgrove old boy was simply the complete player. A second rower who could play No. 8 with ease, Eales had the best hands in the business, was an inspiring leader both with words and through his actions, and he was also a top notch goal kicker. His long strides even generated enough pace to produce try-saving tackles, as he did in the 1991 World Cup. The Brothers rugby great has a statue in his honour outside of Suncorp Stadium for a good reason.
This St Joseph's Nudgee College old boy powerhouse sits atop the list of finest rugby players in the land. With pace, power and toughness, when he came off the back of a scrum or ruck the earth thundered. Loane's impact could be sensed before a ball was kicked off, such was the manner in which he strode onto the field for the start of play. He had a presence about him. Penning his impact on Queensland rugby 40-50 years after the event is impossible, suffice to say his inspiring leadership and thunderous ball running gave teammates confidence. The University No. 8 had no, and still has, no peer. When, and if, rugby ever started the immortal process, he will be one of the first recognised.
If John Eales was the complete forward, then Tim Horan was the complete back. The midfield partner of esteemed outside centres Jason Little and then Daniel Herbert at both state and national level, Horan was a once in a century talent. Blink and you would have missed Horan scorching across the Ballymore, so fast was Horan prior to his career threatening knee injury in 1994. I am not sure I have seen a rugby player move faster than he did to score a try in 1992 at Concord Oval. Horan was tough - many would not have had the fortitude to come back from his horrific knee injury - and he was a winner and a crafty thinker. The Downlands College boy has no peer in Australia as our finest No. 12.
Paul McLean was a class above in his era and like all greats, he seemed to have time in situations where others would be hurried. McLean, from the most famous of all rugby families, had silken skills, magnificent hands and a booming boot which pestered to death his NSW rivals. But it was the thinking which went on behind his passing and kicking which lifted McLean above his peers. Frankly, he was a rugby genius. A multiple premiership winner with the Brothers club, McLean was initially a St Edmunds College student but switched in the final year of his schooling to Nudgee College. To this day McLean still has the din generated by Nudgee College supporters ringing in his ears. He will never forget when the First XV appeared from behind the Ross Oval grandstand for the first GPS match of the season. Little did he know, the ovation that day was only the start of glory days which were to follow.
Watching Lynagh play rugby was pure bless. With soft hands, a side-step and acceleration, and a complete kicking game, it could easily be argued that Lynagh is Queensland's greatest player. A fantastic schoolboy sportsman at St Joseph's Gregory Terrace, Lynagh was a sublime figure at No. 10 for University, Queensland and Australia and was also a champion goalkicker. Quietly spoken, he was calm in a crisis as evidenced when the Wallabies slipped behind Ireland in the 1991 World Cup. Lynagh did his talking on the field. and to merely describe Lynagh as a champion does not do the St Joseph's Gregory Terrace old boy justice.
Has a harder man ever played rugby for Queensland? Tony Shaw was a player everyone wanted to play beside, but never against. As hard as rock, nothing could blast him off course in matches as he zeroed in on any opponent seagulling around a maul or a ruck. A backrower for the famous Brothers club, Shaw was a winner and winning he did for his club, country and state. Extremely fit, he played the game like every match was his last, and although he was a big man, he was not a giant which makes his deeds in the code even more meritorious.
The multi-ekilled Toutai Kefu was a tower of strength for Queensland who mixed power, pace and strength from No.8 and occasionally blindside flanker. Yet such were his skills, Kefu could effortlessly play inside centre as well. A down to earth bloke of Tongan heritage, Kefu (Coorparoo State High School) came from outside the traditional GPS/AIC rugby pathway. Polite and respectful, Kefu soon established himself as a rare talent within the Souths rugby club and his rise into the Queensland ranks became a mere formality. His easy going nature also perfectly suited the chemistry of the Queensland squad of the 1990s where egos were few and far between. He broke into Test rugby in 1997 and soon established himself as the Wallabies premier No.8.
The Mark Loane of Queensland's backline who stood at the back of the maroons cutting a powerful, imposing figure that installed confidence in those around him. A Wests' Bulldogs legend, Gould was a fabulous fullback who hailed from the Brisbane Boys College system. He was fabulous under the high ball, a powerful runner from the back and an extraordinary kicker both in general play and when it came to field goals. Remarkably former Australian coach Bob Dwyer once famously axed him and Paul McLean from the Test team, only to reinstate them after the Wallabies lost. Not surprisingly Australia won the next Test with Gould back at No.15 and McLean at No.10.
A colossus, Lawton was a seemingly immovable object in the middle of the front row, yet a rugby giant possessing tremendous pace. A student of Souths rugby club mentor Roy Elmer, importantly he also had a pinpoint lineout throw so good, his locks would happily shout him beers after matches. A product of The Southport School, Lawton patiently took his place in a queue of elite hookers playing in the early 1980s, including Chris Carberry, Bill Ross, Lance Walker and Bruce Malouf. Even then the spirited Mark McBain from Brothers loomed as a challenger, and the pair were to have a healthy running battle across Brisbane rugby in the years to follow. Queensland were indeed blessed to have two such wonderful campaigners.
An unsung hero who would happily avoid the limelight, yet his role in the rise of Queensland - and Australian rugby - ensures he will forever remain in the spotlight. From Villanova College and then the Souths club, Slack was a fly-half with subtle skills and it was at No. 10 that he earned his first of 133 caps for Queensland. But when a centre positioned became vacant in the Queensland line-up, the selectors took a punt and moved him to the No. 13 jersey. It was a master stroke, because for another 12 years he was to be the perfect link, a calming influence both through actions and through spoken word. Highly intelligent and adept at after match speaking engagements, he was Alan Jones choice as Wallaby captain for the 1984 Grand Sladm tour. The Wallabies returned victorious under Slack, and Slack's reputation was cemented forever more when he led Australia to a 1986 Bledisloe Cup win on New Zealand soil.
Originally published as Reds' rugby's golden era top 50 - today No. 1-10