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Top five Super League players ever signed from Championship clubs

Received wisdom suggests that there is only one way for young players to make it to Super League. Players break into a first-team squad after coming through the academy.

However, this is not always the case as some of Super League’s best players have taken the road less travelled..

The lower leagues of English Rugby League are a brilliant proving ground for young talent. This is highlighted by the number of current Super League players on loan at lower league clubs, with three Hull FC youngsters leaving the club in the last 24 hours.

With the transfer market currently buzzing with activity, Super League clubs will be looking to the Championship for the next big name.

In honor of that, we’re taking a look back at some of the biggest name signings in the league. All these players have been able to achieve huge things since making the move to the top division.

Alex Walmsley

Super League

Credit: Imago Images

St Helens pulled off a huge coup in 2013 when they signed the Championship’s worst kept secret. Alex Walmsley had had a meteoric rise. Joined Batley Bulldogs in 2012 after lighting up the amateur leagues.

In 19 games for the Bulldogs, Walmsley scored seven tries and it was clear he was destined for bigger things. He was soon on the radar of Super League clubs with a battle to secure his services.

Speaking at the time of Walmsley’s move to Saints, Batley head coach John Kear explained that Saints acted most honorably in their pursuit of Walmsley.

“The club that I felt did the most honorable thing and did everything by the book was St Helens and I was more than happy to help them.”

The Saints certainly benefited from this as Walmsley played almost 300 games for the club and numerous trophies with the club. He was the linchpin of the pack in one of the club’s most successful periods.

He is undoubtedly one of the best recruits in the Championship.

Danny Brough

Super League

Credit: Imago Images

At their best, few players have shown the raw kicking ability that Danny Brough has shown throughout this career.

Brough began his career with Dewsbury Rams, where he played 37 times after making his debut in 2002. After requesting a transfer, he moved to York City Knights, before winning a move to Super League with Hull FC.

Brough shone during his time with FC, appearing 43 times and playing a crucial role in their 2005 Challenge Cup win, in which he scored four goals and a drop goal.

He left the Black and White and after spells with Castleford Tigers and Wakefield Trinity before joining Huddersfield Giants where he played his best rugby.

Brough played just under 250 games for the Giants, scoring 51 tries, 793 goals and 25 drop goals.

He was crucial in the Huddersfield side that won the League Leaders Shield in 2013, with Brough receiving the Man of Steel award at the end of the season in recognition of his performances.

Brough was named in the Super League Dream Teams of 2013 and 2015. A stellar career rightly earns him a place on this list.

Zak Hardaker

Zak Hardaker Super League

Credit: Imago Images

Although he is a controversial figure, Zak Hardaker’s playing ability cannot be questioned. When he joined Leeds Rhinos in 2010, he was known as the hottest property in the Championship.

Hardaker shone during his time with the Rhinos, winning three Super League titles, two Challenge Cups, a League Leaders’ Shield and a World Club Challenge at a time when he was arguably the best full-back in Super League.

He left the club under a cloud and after a brief spell in the NRL joined Castleford where he was instrumental in their run to the Leaders’ Shield and Grand Final in 2017. However, a ban for a failed drugs test meant that he missed out on the Grand Final, with Cas losing to the Rhinos.

A move to Wigan followed, where Hardaker won more silverware as the Cherry and Whites lifted the 2020 League leaders’ shield. After a brief spell back at Leeds, where he was part of their unsuccessful run to the 2022 Grand Final , joined Leigh Leopards.

He was a big part of the Leopards success in the 2023 Challenge Cup and a top four finish in the Super League. While problems tended to follow Hardaker off the field, he improved each of his club teams and was a brilliant Championship pick.

Darren Fleary

Leeds Rhinos

Credit: Imago Images

By the mid-1990s, Cougarmania was in full swing, with the West Yorkshire outfit assembling a Super League-quality squad in the second tier. In 1995, Keighley were on the verge of returning to the First Division of Rugby League when the Super League reforms locked them out of the new competition and plunged them into financial crisis.

As a result, the Keighley team was disbanded, with Leeds Rhinos effectively saving the club by signing seven of their first team squad, including Great Britain international Daryl Powell. However, arguably the best of the bunch was fearsome forward Darren Fleary. Fleary was relatively unknown, spending his early career at Dewsbury. However, he became a critical part of the Rhinos team in the early years of Super League.

Fleary played 127 games for the Rhinos and was part of the team that lifted the Challenge Cup in 1999. He could have won more with the Rhinos but they suffered in a number of finals, including the 1998 Grand Final and the Challenge 2000 Cup. final at Murrayfield.

Fleary is fondly remembered at Rhinos. He was one of the great second-tier recruits in the early days of Super League.

Tyler Dupree

Tyler Dupree Wigan Warriors

Credit: Imago Images

Although Tyler Dupree started out in Leeds’ academy, he left the club without playing a game and seemed destined for a career in the lower leagues. After spending time on loan with Featherstone Rovers, York and Batley Bulldogs, he eventually signed permanent terms with Oldham, who left the Rhinos.

Dupree has since revealed that he lost his love for the game and considered leaving Rugby League to join the army. However, he regained his best form at Oldham, earning a move back to Super League with Salford Red Devils after spending time with Widnes Vikings.

Dupree never looked back. His form at Salford earned him a move to Wigan Warriors and he now forms part of one of the most feared attacking packs in Super League. He earned an England call-up, won a grand final and was part of the team that won the World Club Challenge earlier this year.

This is, of course, a pick with an eye on the future, with Dupree early in his career. However, he has all the attributes to be a Super League great for years to come.

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