NRL's criminal team of the century

Rugby league has celebrated its Team of the Century, announced the best club selections of the past 100 years, and even had police and schoolboy teams of the century. But no Team of the Penitentiary!

Given the media's preoccupation with every misdemeanour committed by NRL players, why not stroll down the code's Hall of Shame to find those players who have spent time in the slammer.

FULLBACK: Joe Kilroy (Brisbane): "Smokin' Joe" was a Broncos original but went to Wacol Correctional Centre for drug-related offences. Queensland Police had problems finding the elusive fullback and winger, while Joe eventually found God.

WINGER: Buddy Cain (Souths, Wests): A flamboyant flankman who excited Magpie fans but intrigued his 1978 teammates by knowing every sidestreet between Lidcombe and Maroubra. Buddy would challenge Newcastle winger and former weekend detainee Wes Naiqama, as an excellent get-away driver. Cain, a mystery man who no one knows whether he was jailed, died of a heart attack, possibly from the palpitations a decade earlier when Souths forward Bob McCarthy challenged him over a suspected break and enter of his home.

CENTRE: Victor Spinks (Balmain, Newtown): Played centre in the Tigers lower grades and in the back row with Newtown in 1968. A drug baron who was the Mr C of the Jockey Tapes scandal, he was jailed in 1996 over one of Australia's largest drug importations. Released in 2002.

CENTRE: Kevin Yow Yeh (Balmain): He came to Sydney from Redcliffe with Arthur Beetson in 1966 but returned to Queensland to die sadly in a cell at Mackay of an alleged heart attack. Beetson describes him as one of the most electrifying backs he's seen.

WINGER: John Ryan (Penrith): A former rugby union international who played for the Panthers from 1977 to 1980. He committed armed robberies to feed a gambling habit and died in jail in 1982, aged 33.

FIVE-EIGHTH: Les Mara (Balmain, Souths, Newtown): Jailed in 2007 for a maximum of 20 years after being captured on the NSW South Coast for conspiracy to import cocaine. He withdrew at the last minute from accompanying Paul Hayward (see next item) to Bangkok in 1978.

HALFBACK: Paul Hayward (Newtown): Hung by his heels from the 10th floor of the "Bangkok Hilton" after he was caught with heroin in Thailand. On his release, he held the record for time survived in the treacherous prison. He contracted AIDS from sharing needles in jail and after returning to Australia, he died of a drug overdose in 1992.

LOCK: Gary Sullivan (Newtown): A World Cup player 1970, an armed robber who was once among Australia's 10 most wanted. Escaped from jail and recaptured while knocking off a toothbrush in South Australia. Softly spoken, which makes him ineligible for captain-coach and probably explains why he committed the robberies with a mate. Somebody had to shout, "Get on the floor".

SECOND-ROWER: John Elias (Newtown, Souths, Canterbury, Wests, Easts, Balmain): Captain-coach because he played for all the inner-city clubs that traditionally produce the scallywags. He shot a Balmain sponsor in the leg - not a good career move in a code that struggles for sponsorship, even from the bottom end of town. His career did survive pinching Canterbury boss Peter Moore's credit card, an offence not detected for some time because nobody could spend more than "Bullfrog". Elias helped league gain a foothold in Lebanon and has redeemed himself since his release, feeding the poor of inner Sydney twice a week.

SECOND-ROWER: A couple of Wests players who are also rebuilding their lives, qualify, including one who would have made an excellent coach. He once called upon the coach to replace an exhausted prop, shouting from the SCG sideline to a packed stand, "Hey, Thirsty, get No.11 off. He's f-----."

FRONT-ROWER: Ambrose Morgan (Souths): A Redfern local who moved up to the top grade in 1975 after John O'Neill went to Manly. After being released from jail for robbery, he was shot dead in Railway Square the same year by a past associate bent on revenge. A big-boned man, the bullet is said to have bounced off a rib on the right side, penetrating his heart.

HOOKER: Ricky Montgomery (Souths): A three-gamer with South Sydney in 1984 who is awaiting sentence with Bradley Evans and Hayden Rodgers after being convicted last November of attempting to import 30kg of cocaine into Sydney in 2003.

FRONT-ROWER: Jason Williams (Cronulla, Canberra): The heavily tattooed Tongan international, who played 21 NRL matches from 2004 to 2006, was jailed for four months for assault. He is one of the few recent players to be incarcerated, suggesting that today's leaguies are not as bad as widely believed, although some offer great promise in retirement.

TEAM SPONSOR: Nugan Hand: A money-laundering merchant bank with links to Sydney leagues clubs that collapsed in 1980 following the discovery of Frank Nugan's body in a car near Lithgow.


Sydney Morning Herald