Thursday 22 February 2018 / 06:05 PM


Few things get rugby league fans as excited as when their club goes on a spending spree, signing a host of star players with a view to boosting the team’s fortunes. But while the arrival of a host of big-names may look good on paper, it doesn’t always guarantee instant success.

After almost unprecedented player movement in the off-season – with the Tigers, Knights and Warriors, in particular, drafting in a host of new players – we’re tempering expectations by taking a look at some of the least effective spending sprees in premiership history.

We’ve trawled through the archives to reveal the occasions when each club’s recruitment managers – along with coaches and supporters – were left tearing their hair out at the lack of impact made by the new purchases.


In what proved to be Anthony Griffin’s last season as Broncos coach, the club’s big-name recruits crashed and burned. Wayward star Ben Barba failed to rediscover his best at fullback or five-eighth and was punted by Wayne Bennett at the end of the year, former Maroons hopeful Martin Kennedy played just 16 games and was released from the final two years of his contract to return to the Roosters, and Todd Lowrie was also shown the door after just one season. Only Daniel Vidot was retained by Bennett for 2015.

Honourable mentions: 2013 – Scott Prince, David Stagg, Lama Tasi; 2008 – Joel Clinton, PJ Marsh, Ashton Sims, Peter Wallace, Derrick Watkins; 2001 – Darren Burns, Michael Coorey, Mark Corvo, Stuart Kelly, Scott Prince; 1989 – Sam Backo, Tony Currie, James Donnelly, Ken Gittens, Peter Jackson, Scott Tronc.


Looking to rebuild as their ageing ’94 grand final squad began to disintegrate, the Raiders got little value out of their batch of 2000 recruits. Nathan Barnes, Anthony Collela, Justin Morgan, Adam Peters and Anthony Swann all lasted two seasons or less, with Sean Rutgerson the only new face to play more than 28 games for the Green Machine. Well-travelled centre Barnes managed just one first-grade appearance.

Honourable mentions: 1998 – Anthony Brann, Brandon Costin, David Cox, Danny Lima, Michael Maguire, Nathan Sologinkin; 1985 – Brett Atkins, Kevin Beardmore, Michael Blake, Phil Carey, Terry Regan, Mike Smith, Paul Thompson, Brad Williams.


The Bulldogs lost a stack of star players after winning the 1988 grand final, and their replacements didn’t cut the mustard. Kiwi international Mark Elia was a flop, veteran Paul Akkary played just one game in the top grade, and Darren Blythe, Darren Currie, Grant Ellis, Greg Mackey, Brett Ross and Jamie Thompson all lasted just one season at Belmore after arriving from rival clubs.

Former Kiwi international Mark Elia
Former Kiwi international Mark Elia

Honourable mentions: 1987 – Pat Jarvis, Paul Dixon, Colin Whitfield, Darren McCarthy, Scott Bennett; 2005 – Chris Armit, Ben Czislowski, Daniel Irvine, Makasini Richter, Luke Young; 2008 – Michael Sullivan, Justin Tsoulos, Danny Williams, Joe Williams, Nick Youngquest, Charlie Leano.


The Sharks’ list of ’07 recruits looked OK on paper, but the lack of return on the field was appalling. Queensland rep Josh Hannay played three games before being banished to park footy, ex-Kiwi Henry Perenara made nine appearances in his last season of first grade, halfback Brett Seymour missed half the year with injury, and outside-backs Paul Stephenson, Dustin Cooper and Misi Taulapapa all provided next to no value. Isaac De Gois, Craig Stapleton and Fraser Anderson eased the pain somewhat with solid campaigns.

Honourable mentions: 2006 – Darren Albert, Leon Bott, Brett Kearney, Tevita Latu, Darren Mapp, Ben Pomeroy, Ben Ross, Lance Thompson, Richard Villasanti; 2010 – Paul Aiton, Dean Collis, Josh Cordoba, Adam Cuthbertson, Stuart Flanagan, Luke Harlen, John Morris, Tim Smith, Taulima Tautai, Broderick Wright.


It has been slim pickings for much of the Titans’ history due to their precarious position on and off the field, but their 2013 recruits were particularly disappointing. Returning winger Jordan Atkins and former NYC Player of the Year Beau Henry played six games between them, while Dave Taylor was a constant enigma for three seasons on the holiday strip. Albert Kelly and Brad Takairangi did do some good things, however.

Honourable mentions: 2010 – Riley Brown, Steve Michaels, Joe Tomane, Clinton Toopi, Greg Bird.


The Sea Eagles cleaned house in 2015 after missing the finals for the first time in more than a decade and went on an expansive spending spree. But it’s safe to say Dylan Walker, Lewis Brown, Nate Myles, Martin Taupau and Matt Parcell fell well short of expectations during their first season on the northern beaches. Apisai Koroisau, Siosaia Vave and Darcy Lussick were good value-for-money pick-ups, but the high-profile contingent overwhelmingly failed to deliver. Walker and Taupau atoned with excellent 2017 seasons, however. 

Honourable mentions: 2015 – Luke Burgess, Blake Leary, Willie Mason, Feleti Mateo, Brayden Williame; 1998 – Damien Browne, Jamie Olejnik, Adam Peters, Luke Phillips, Joe Taylor; 1988 – Greg Gibson, Don McKinnon, Joe Ropati; 1985 – Andy Goodway, James Leuluai, Darren Rodgers, Marty Gurr.


It’s not often the Storm miss the mark in the recruitment stakes – or splurge at all, for that matter – but the 2000 season was a notable exception. Highly regarded front-rowers John Lomax and Brenton Pomeroy only made a handful of first-grade appearances, as did ex-Norths forward Dane Morgan and former Crushers half Kevin Carmichael.

Honourable mentions: 2002 – Willie Leyshon, Keith Mason, Ian Sibbit, Shane Walker; 2014 – Ben Roberts, Joel Romelo, George Rose, Dayne Weston, Marika Koroibete.


Seldom a club to go on a full-scale spending spree – apart from when Wayne Bennett brought half of St George Illawarra to the Hunter, and ahead of this season – the Knights haven’t had many recruitment disasters. The acquisition of Scott Conley, Steve Walters, Jason Temu and Shane O’Grady in 1999 was probably one of the Newcastle recruitment team’s less auspicious efforts, but that class also included Clinton O’Brien, who went on to win a grand final with the club.

Honourable mentions: 1991 – Steve Linnane, Jason Hoogerwerf, Dave Woods, Mike McLean; 2011 – Neville Costigan, Siuatonga Likiliki, Steve Southern; 2015 – Tariq Sims, Jack Stockwell, Carlos Tuimavave, Sam Mataora.


The Cowboys attempted to buy their way out of the doldrums during their early fruitless seasons, and it back-fired hard in 1999. Paul Green was a high-priced flop, Noel Goldthorpe wasn’t much better, and the limited contribution of Geoff Bell, Geoff Bourke, Brett Boyd, Darrien Doherty, Jody Gall, Chad Halliday, Ben Rauter, Matt Ryan, Damien Smith and George Wilson ensured the club would maintain its cellar-dweller status for years to come.

Honourable mentions: 2001 – Tim Maddison, Danny Moore, Adam Nable, Lee Oudenryn; 2009 – Clint Amos, Michael Bani, Shannon Hegarty, Antonio Kaufusi, Manase Manuokafoa, Grant Rovelli, Willie Tonga.


Probably the most ill-fated recruitment drive in history, the Eels splashed out on ageing, injury-prone types Carl Webb, Chris Hicks, Reni Maitua, Chris Walker, Paul Whatuira, Jordan Atkins and Casey McGuire, along with handy Penrith youngster Joseph Paulo. McGuire, Maitua and Paulo were the only members of that bunch to play more than 12 games in the blue and gold, or stay at the club more than a season, with Webb, Hicks, Walker and Whatuira retiring after making just 19 first-grade appearances between them in 2011.

Honourable mentions: 2012 – Ben Roberts, Chris Sandow, Luke Kelly, Tualima Tautai, Esi Tonga, Willie Tonga; 2010 – Manase Manuokafoa, Justin Poore, Shane Shackleton, Timana Tahu, Lee Te Maari; 1994 – Iva Ropati, Darrell Williams, Wayne Simonds, Brett Plowman, Andy Patmore, Phil Howlett, James Hinchey, Rod Collins, Paul Clarke.


The easybeat Panthers made one of the most disastrous forays into the New Zealand rugby union ranks ever when they recruited All Blacks prop Kent Lambert in 1978. Lambert played just one first-grade game. Meanwhile, Russell Mullins, Tim Armistead and Greg Moore barely featured after joining Penrith from rivals clubs, though Gary Pethybridge did captain the club. The Panthers failed to learn their Lambert lesson, luring Wallabies prop Tony D’Arcy across the divide for a similarly unsuccessful stint in the early-1980s.

Former All Blacks prop Kent Lambert (left)
Former All Blacks prop Kent Lambert (left)

Honourable mentions: 1982 – Tony D’Arcy, Eddie Flahey, Neville Glover; 1992 – Glen Liddiard, Graham Lyons, Glen Nissen, Peter Trevett, Andrew Leeds, Brett Boyd; 2011 – Yileen Gordon, Timana Tahu, Taioalo Vaivai, Dayne Weston.


Boy, did the Saints’ recruiters screw the pooch two seasons ago. Installed at fullback at the start of the year, Kurt Mann was dropped after an error-riddled display, Tim Lafai went from being one of the most destructive centres in the NRL to one of the least effective, and Siliva Havili, Kalifa Faifai Loa, Dunamis Lui, Tyrone McCarthy, Josh McCrone and Adam Quinlan had next to no impact. Russell Packer and mid-season arrival Tariq Sims attempted to square the ledger, but overall it was a trainwreck. Lafai and Mann bounced back with solid 2017 campaigns.

Honourable mentions: 2015 – George Rose, Dane Nielsen, Heath L’Estrange, Mark Ioane, Justin Hunt; 2011 – Adam Cuthbertson, Bronx Goodwin, David Gower, Reece Simmonds, Ratu Tagive; 2004 – John Carlaw, Andrew Frew, Tony Jensen, Nathan Long, Lincoln Withers, Nick Youngquest; 2000 – Solomon Haumono, Wes Patten, Lee Hookey, Robbie Simpson, Jamie Fitzgerald.


The Rabbitohs needed to bolster their squad after Sam Burgess, Ben Te’o, Lote Tuqiri and Apisai Koroisau left following the club’s grand final triumph – as well as depth players Nathan Merritt, Joe Picker and Luke Burgess – but the big-name buys weren’t up to the task. Former Origin stars Glenn Stewart and Tim Grant were huge flops, Paul Carter’s on-field dynamism was thwarted by his off-field misbehaviour, and Daryl Millard played just three games in first grade. Nathan Brown was the shining light in a dud batch of recruits.

Honourable mentions: 1991 – Sandy Campbell, Keith Cole, Daryl Neville, Billy Noke, Jason Williams.


The Roosters garnered an unflattering ‘transit lounge’ reputation during the 1980s, always buying up large but rarely getting a good return. Although the 1984 splurge included top-value buys John Ferugson and Gary Wurth, they received little from Kurt and Dane Sorenson, Gavin Miller, Rowland Beckett, Shane McKellar, Robert Simpkins, and Brett and Scott Gale. They finished second-last in the club’s worst campaign since the winless 1966 season.

Honourable mentions: 1988 – Brett Papworth, Gary Bridge, John Elias, Kevin Duckett, Jason Williams, Pat Jarvis; 1993 – Mark Barnes, Brett Docherty, Martin Offiah, Grant Doorey, Shane Walker, Harvey Howard; 1999 – Graham Appo, Darren Burns, Craig Kimmorley, Paul Langmack, Quentin Pongia; 2011 – Justin Carney, Mark Riddell, Anthony Mitchell, Willie Mataka.


A club with more than its share of recruitment disappointments, the 2014 season takes the cake on the strength of superstar Wigan fullback Sam Tomkins’ failure to live up to his enormous pay-packet. Meanwhile, Cronulla duo Jayson Bukuya and Chad Townsend were unable to deliver consistently, and the trio all returned to their former clubs at the end of 2015.

Honourable mentions: 2016 – Blake Ayshford, James Gavet, Shaun Lane, Issac Luke, Jeff Robson, Ligi Sao, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck; 2013 – Dane Nielsen, Todd Lowrie, Dominique Peyroux, Thomas Leuluai; 2004 – Paul Dezolt, Matt Jobson, Danny Sullivan, Tony Martin; 1998 – Kevin Iro, Quentin Pongia, Tyran Smith, Tony Tatupu, Nigel Vagana; 1997 – Matthew Ridge, Grant Young, Lee Oudenryn; 1996 – Marc Ellis, Mark Carter, Iva Ropati, Mark Horo.


After controversially releasing crowd favourites Andrew Fifita and Bryce Gibbs, and cutting troubled half Robert Lui loose, the Tigers charged into the player pool with cheque-book in hand. The result was the disastrous pick-up of Adam Blair, and underwhelming stints from Ray Cashmere, Tom Humble, Masada Iosefa and Joel Reddy. Prop Matt Bell was the only recruit who could be considered an exception.

Honourable mentions: 2008 – Mathew Head, Rhys Hanbury, Corey Payne, Ryan Tandy; 2002 – Glen Air, Robbie Mears, Steve Trindall, Troy Wozniak.

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About the author

Will Evans

CBS’s Editor-in-Chief and lead rugby league, union and cricket writer, Will is a Christchurch-based freelancer, also writing for Big League and Rugby League Review magazines, and The New Daily website. Will has written four rugby league books.

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