The top 20 fullbacks of the modern era
WE rate the top 20 fullbacks to play in Australia in the modern rugby league era.
1 BILLY SLATER
The King. Widely considered the greatest fullback in the code's 112-year history. The Innisfail whiz is second on the all-time try-scoring list with 190 four-pointers and of his 319 NRL games, 311 were in the No.1 jumper. Slater perfected the art of modern fullback play: his communication and off-the-ball work were peerless, he had the speed and vision to create opportunities for others and was so supremely fit he was as dangerous in the 80th minute as the first. Won the Golden Boot in 2008 and Dally M in 2011. Throw in 30 Tests and 31 Origin matches and it is easy to see why he tops the list.
2 DARREN LOCKYER
On track to become the NRL's next Immortal. The Broncos icon finished his career as a five-eighth but played 166 games in the No.1 jumper, not to mention 36 Origin games and a staggering 59 Tests for Australia. His sublime footwork, vision and silky skills delivered two Golden Boot Awards, three Dally M fullback crowns and the 2000 Clive Churchill Medal. His courage and toughness were undersold.
3 JAMES TEDESCO
Has helped deliver two premierships in two years to the Roosters. The bigger the occasion, the better he gets, as evidenced by his Origin-series winning try last year. A backfield tsunami who busts tackles at will and is constantly on the ball, terrorising defenders around the rucks. A supreme athlete who is currently the NRL's No.1 player.
4 MATT BOWEN
One of the most naturally gifted players to lace on a boot. 'Mango' Bowen was the Cowboys' first real superstar, a backfield dynamo who could turn a game in a flash with his speed and brilliant attacking instincts. Racked up 270 NRL games for the Cowboys and many of his 130 career tries were long-range solo spectaculars. A matchwinner for Queensland and represented Australia in 2004.
5 JARRYD HAYNE
Maligned by many but no-one can dispute his natural talent. To this day, no man has produced the burst of form that propelled Hayne to the 2009 Dally M Medal. The Hayne Plane had the ball on a string and ghosted past defenders as if they weren't there. A two-time fullback of the year who added a second Dally M Medal in 2014 before his shock switch to American football interrupted a stellar 214-game NRL career.
6 ANTHONY MINICHIELLO
Darren Lockyer once rated 'Mini' among his top five players and that says it all. Started as a winger but tallied 212 games for the Roosters as a high-octane fullback who relished collisions and busting through tackles with his remarkable power and strength. Played 18 Tests for Australia and 11 Origin games for NSW. A great competitor with a supreme fitness base.
7 GARRY JACK
A magnificent fullback of the 1980s era who was famous for his scything try-saving cover tackles. Scored 61 tries in 248 games for Wests and Balmain and was named Dally M fullback of the year three times from 1985-88. During that golden reign, Jack became the first fullback to win the Golden Boot award in 1986. Throw in 21 Tests and 17 Origin games and 'Jimmy' Jack was the complete fullback.
8 ROGER TUIVASA-SHECK
"Roger the Dodger" is a joy to watch in full flight. Regularly runs for more than 200m in a match and possesses arguably the best footwork in the code today. Warriors trainers are blown away by his fitness levels and dedication to training. The reward came with his Dally M Medal win two years ago. Won a premiership at the Roosters in 2013 and at age 26, RTS is in the prime of his career.
9 TIM BRASHER
Was still at school studying for the HSC when handed his Balmain debut in 1989. Brasher would enjoy a 14-season career headlined by his fine fullback display in Australia's 1992 World Cup final defeat of Great Britain. Had superb instincts and the speed to get through the smallest of gaps.
10 BRETT STEWART
'The Snake' was as lethal as fullbacks come. Blinding acceleration off the mark and his anticipation was peerless. His 163 career tries from 233 games for Manly is a head-spinning strike-rate and testament to his ability to be in the right place at the right time. A two-time premiership winner.
11 DAVID PEACHEY
'The Peach' is one of Cronulla's all-time greats. There was no better sight than Peachey in his pomp, a spindly built fullback who ghosted across the turf terrorising defenders with his speed and sidestep. Back-to-back Dally M fullback crowns in 1999-2000 were a feature of a superb 257-game career that netted 117 tries.
12 GARY BELCHER
A three-time Dally M fullback of the year who played a key role in Canberra's maiden title win in 1989. One of Queensland's first great Origin custodians who was quick on his feet and had a knack of injecting himself into the frontline at the perfect time. Ran with confidence on kick returns and was outstanding in Australia's epic 1990 Kangaroo tour triumph.
13 DARIUS BOYD
Is in the code's top five most-capped fullbacks with 247 games in the No.1 jumper at the Dragons, Knights and Broncos. Started as a winger but there was no more dangerous player in the game in 2010 when Boyd won the Clive Churchill Medal as the Dragons' hot-stepping fullback. Usurped Billy Slater as Australia's pre-eminent fullback in 2016.
14 BRETT MULLINS
How good was Mullins in full flight? There was no more dynamic No. 1 in the 1990s than Mullins, who scored 105 tries in a superb 11-season, 183-game career at Canberra. He was the poster boy for Tim Sheens' all-conquering Green Machine with his speed, footwork and backfield incursions. His swerve was compared that of Dragons legend Graeme Langlands.
15 BEN BARBA
A chequered off-field career but on it Barba was a footballing genius. His 2012 season was from another planet as Barba torched the NRL, scoring 22 tries from 27 games to win the Dally M Medal. He celebrated a premiership win at Cronulla in 2016 before winning the Super League's Man of Steel two years later. A remarkable tackle-busting talent.
16 MICK POTTER
Burst into the spotlight when he won the 1984 Dally M Medal in his first full season at the Bulldogs at just 19. A three-time fullback of the year, he won a second Dally M crown in 1991 at St George. Despite his superb club career, Potter played just one Origin game and while not a prolific tryscorer, he was an excellent positional fullback who was supremely safe under the high ball.
17 RHYS WESSER
The Panthers would not have won the 2003 premiership without Wesser. The Rockhampton flyer scored 25 tries in 26 games to propel Penrith to an epic title defeat of the Roosters. The 218-game Penrith legend scored 129 career tries and resembled an American Olympic sprinter with his muscular frame and effortless movement in full flight. Played four Origin games for Queensland.
18 ROBBIE O'DAVIS
"Robbie O" was one of the code's great entertainers. Was the backfield linchpin of Newcastle's golden era of the 1990s, scoring two tries to inspire the Knights' epic ARL grand-final defeat of Manly in 1997. In that game, he also clinched the Clive Churchill Medal. Finished with 78 tries from 223 games and was a constant menace with his speed and footwork.
19 MATTHEW RIDGE
A trailblazer who became one of the code's first great goalkickers. A Junior All Black, Ridge was deadly accurate and his boot kicked Manly to many victories during their dominance of the mid-1990s. Also a fine last-line defender. Dally M fullback of the year in 1995 and played all 25 Tests for New Zealand in the No. 1 jumper.
20 LUKE PATTEN
Few know he is just second behind Billy Slater for most NRL games at fullback with 279 appearances. 'The General' was an underrated backfield performer, scoring 100 tries in a 13-season career with Illawarra, the Dragons and Canterbury. While rep honours eluded him, he was quick off the mark, brave under pressure and ultra-consistent.
FOOTNOTE: Manly legend Graham Eadie was not considered. While he played from 1971-83, he never represented Australia during the specified nominations period (1980-2020) and played just one Origin game in 1980.