Dream XIII: Greatest players never to win a NRL Grand Final

Zach Holland

We’ve selected a Dream XIII based on players who have never won a NRL Grand Final.

With the pool and calibre of players so high, we will only look at players who have played in the NRL era and have now retired, so that unfortunately excludes players such as Wally Lewis, Steve Rogers and Ben Elias from this list.

Note: players who have played in the NRL but have been a part of Grand Final-winning team before 1998 will be excluded for the purposes of this feature.

Full-back: Andrew Ettingshausen

The Cronulla legend will go down as one of the greatest players in history never to win a Grand Final. Even though the former Australia international only played three seasons of NRL rugby, he came close during the 1999 season when his side were crowned Minor Premiership winners but would succumb to a defeat against the Dragons during the finals series.

Despite never achieving league title success, Ettingshausen still forged a sensational career at both representative and international level. To this day, he sits fourth on Australian Rugby League’s all-time try scoring chart with 165.

Wing: Manu Vatuvei

During the early 2000s, there wasn’t a more ferocious and prolific winger in the league other than Vatuvei.

The Beast only reached the NRL Grand Final once in his career back in 2011 and despite scoring a try, his New Zealand Warriors side would lose out to a dominant Manly Sea Eagles.

Centre: Nigel Vagana

If Vagana had remained with Canterbury for one more season, then he would have had a NRL title to his name.

Throughout the late 1990s and early 2000s, he was one of the best centres in the league, winning Dally M Centre of The Year in 2001 and 2002. The former New Zealand and Samoa international forged a reputation as a hard running centre for Auckland Warriors, Canterbury and Cronulla. After leaving Canterbury in 2003 to join the Sharks, the Bulldogs went on to win the NRL title in 2004.

Centre: Mat Rogers

Throughout his career, Rogers played in a variety of positions in the back-line and developed a reputation as an exceptional goal kicker, ball runner and try scorer. During his time with both Cronulla and Gold Coast, he would fail to reach a Grand Final post 1998 but was apart of the Sharks side that reached the Super League final against Brisbane in 1997.

However, Rogers still scored 106 tries in 200 appearances while accumulating 1,355 points. The former Australia international was also a part of the 2000 Rugby League World Cup-winning team as well as being the top points scorer in the competition that year.

Wing: Matt Sing

A player who possessed all the natural skill and ability to be a successful and impactful winger.

Despite reaching an NRL Grand Final with both Sydney and North Queensland, he was just unfortunate to be on wrong team on the day. The former Queensland representative’s 157 tries make him joint seventh alongside Hazem El Masri on the league’s all-time try scoring chart.

Stand-off: Trent Barrett

The 2000 Dally M Medal winner was no question a skilful and creative five-eighth and put together a great career in the late 1990s and early 2000s with the Illawarra Steelers and then St George Illawarra Dragons.

The 1999 NRL Grand Final would be his only chance of Championship success in the league but his Dragons side fell to Melbourne. He went on to spend two seasons in Super League with Wigan, where he became a fan’s favourite.

Scrum-half: Stacey Jones

The little New Zealand maestro is certainly up there when we talk about some of the greatest players never to win a Grand Final.

The former Kiwi international’s skill and style were joy to watch despite his small stature and he will go down as the greatest Kiwi to never achieve title success in the NRL.

Prop: Luke Bailey

The 2005 Dally M Prop of The Year was a tremendous workhorse during his time in the league and as the years went on, he progressed and adapted into an elite forward by adding new skills and traits to his game.

Despite all his abilities though, a Grand Final win was something that alluded him during his time with both St George Illawarra and Gold Coast.

Hooker: Aaron Payne

A somewhat underrated player who spent his entire 11-year career playing for North Queensland alongside the likes of Matt Bowen and Johnathan Thurston.

The 2006 and 2008 Cowboys Player of The Year may have operated in the shadows of both Bowen and JT but was still a key catalyst in the Cowboys set up. However, the one-time NRL All Star only made one Grand Final appearance in his career back in 2005 but his side lost out to the Tigers.

Prop: Nathan Cayless

Between 1997 and 2010, Cayless showed a great deal of leadership and durability and was as tough and rugged as they came in the front-row.

The former NSW representative showed a maturity beyond his years after taking the Parramatta captaincy at the age of 22 and should no doubt count himself as unlucky not to have a single NRL title to his name. The Parramatta enforcer was vital part of an impressive Eels side that went on to appear in two Grand Finals but lost out in 2001 and 2009.

Back-row: Nathan Hindmarsh

Alongside Ettingshausen, Hindmarsh is probably one of the most deserving players to at least have one Grand Final win to his name.

The Parramatta legend’s work ethic and ability were completely unmatched during his time in the league between 1998 and 2012 but an NRL championship just never happened for him. The former NSW representative and Australia international was a major part of the all dominant Eels side in 2001 that lost out to Newcastle as well as being on the losing side that saw defeat against Melbourne in the 2009 final. The latter edition being worse still as the Storm were later stripped of the title due to salary cap breaches.

Back-row: Simon Mannering

Like his former team-mate Stacey Jones, Mannering will go down as one of the best Kiwi internationals to never see Grand Final glory.

The 2008 Rugby League World Cup winner stayed true to the New Zealand Warriors in his 14-year career and proved to be an influential leader in the back-row and a tenacious no-nonsense forward. After taking over the Warriors captaincy in 2010, he went on to lead them to the 2011 Grand Final in what was his only appearance in the league’s showpiece event but it saw defeat against an inspired Manly side.

Loose forward: Matt Gillett

During the 2010s, the former Brisbane man proved to be one of the best back-row forwards in the league.

However, Gillett would come into a Brisbane side that had already phased out of years of dominance and only appeared in one Grand Final in his career back in 2015 against North Queensland. If it wasn’t for an inspired Johnathan Thurston and a late Kyle Feldt try, then he would have a NRL title to his name.

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