Riley McGree has already impressed the Boro faithful despite having limited court time so far. The 23-year-old midfielder has a bit of Aussie guts in his game and can make a big contribution in the battle to earn a play-off spot.
His commitment to the cause is also on full display, having chosen the Boro promotion battle over arguably opting for an easier life with Celtic. If McGree’s approach continues unabated and he manages to avoid injury, he can establish himself as a regular in Chris Wilder’s side.
But how far can McGree go as a professional? Can he make a dent in the list of impressive Australians who have played for Boro in the past?
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Granted, Riley will have to achieve personal highs to match the achievements of Mark Schwarzer, who is Australia’s most capped player. Schwarzer has played 109 international matches, including two World Cups. Fifty-three caps have occurred with Boro, making him the club’s most capped player of all time.
Bryan Robson pulled off a very shrewd deal when Schwarzer was signed from Bradford City for the relatively cheap sum of £1.3m in 1997. The Sydney stopper made his debut in a semi-final first leg of the League Cup at Stockport and immediately dominated his goal. area in a way we Boro fans have never seen before.
In some ways, Schwarzer has changed his style slightly in his 11 years with the club, as he hasn’t left his line that often in recent years. Overall he was a cut above, a solid and reliable keeper, playing in Boro’s Carling Cup-winning side in 2004 and in the UEFA Cup final two years later.
It came as a shock when Schwarzer turned down a new contract in 2008 after making 445 Boro appearances. He moved to Fulham, where he became the first and only non-Briton to make over 500 Premier League appearances. Undoubtedly, if Schwarzer had remained at Teesside he would be the player with the most appearances for the club, beating Tim Williamson’s 602 between 1902 and 1923.
But for injuries, Melbourne-born Mark Viduka would have earned a lot more Australian caps. In case he had to settle for 43. He was another shrewd signing, snapped up by Steve McClaren for £4.5m from Leeds United when the Elland Road club suffered a financial crisis.
Injuries marred his first season on Teesside, but Viduka came on strong in 2005-06, playing a major role in Boro’s reaching the UEFA Cup final. He scored 19 goals in all competitions and oozed class, leading the attack with aplomb. Viduka belied his physical constitution by being the first to react in difficult situations. The ball usually stuck to his feet and he was a master at turning quickly in the box and finishing cleanly.
It was a huge blow for Gareth Southgate in his first season as manager when Viduka turned down the offer of a new contract. Ironically, Viduka’s move to Newcastle was riddled with injuries and he never really had an impact for the Magpies.
Craig Johnston was born in South Africa but is generally considered an Australian, having grown up Down Under. His story is quite amazing, his parents allegedly sold their house to fund Craig’s flight to England to pursue his football ambitions.
Johnston wrote for trials at four clubs, including Boro, whom he had seen play in Australia during their 1975 world tour. Boro was the first to offer him a trial, but at first he was rejected by the manager Jack Charlton. However, persistence paid off and Johnston was eventually offered a contract.
He was a regular member of Boro’s side as a teenager, which eventually led to his £580,000 sale in 1981 to Liverpool, where he won five league titles and the European Cup. Johnston has always resisted calls to play for Australia or South Africa. He won two England Under-21 caps and didn’t feature once when he was selected for the senior team.
Rhys Williams was a class performer who could play equally well in defense and midfield, although he was another whose career was blighted by injuries. Born in Perth, he came to England aged 16 and tried out with several clubs before being offered a place at Boro Academy.
He qualified for Wales through his family and played for their Under-21 side, where he picked up an injury which set back his progress at Boro. Eventually he was loaned out to Burnley, where he made a huge impact. He returned to the Boro as a regular member of the first team.
Further injuries marred his career and Rhys was limited to 141 appearances over eight seasons, although when fit his name was first on the team sheet. Likewise, were it not for the injuries, he would have earned well over 14 caps in Australia.
Dandenong-born Scott McDonald was a little unhappy to be part of a largely Scottish contingent signed by Gordon Strachan who received more than his fair share of bricks. However, McDonald did better than most of their newcomers and was a striker in three, which was very satisfying.
He had been a prolific goalscorer with Motherwell and Celtic and had adapted reasonably well to life in the Championship, unlike some of his peers. McDonald scored for the club in 2011 and again in 2013 and remains Boro’s second-highest league goalscorer of all time with 37 goals, behind leader Britt Assombalonga. Scott played 26 times for Australia, unfortunately never finding the back of the net.
Paul Okon was born in Sydney but already had a successful career in Europe behind him when he was signed by Robson in the summer of 2000. However, he was slow to make an impact on Teesside. It wasn’t until Terry Venables took over in December that Okon became a key member of the team. It was no surprise when he later joined Venables again at Leeds. Okon eventually earned 28 caps and went on to coach the Australia Under-23 team.
Defender Tony Vidmar was already a seasoned campaigner when he joined Boro on a free transfer in 2002, making 12 appearances. He had lifted seven major trophies during his time at Rangers and was capped 76 times by the Socceroos. He is currently the assistant coach of the national team.
Goalkeeper Brad Jones started at Boro Academy and was largely Schwarzer’s understudy until Mark moved to Fulham. Jones went on to become Boro’s No.1 within two seasons, leading to a £2.3m move to Liverpool in 2010. Brad then tasted Dutch title success with Feyenoord, followed by similar success with Al -Nassr in the Saudi Professional League. He has won six full Australian caps.
Midfielder Luke Wilkshire was another who started out at Boro Academy, eventually making his first-team debut alongside McClaren in 2002. He was always a first-team regular but never won a long race in the team and eventually moved on. to the city of Bristol. However, Wilkshire went on to a highly successful career in Europe, including two stints with Dynamo Moscow, and earned no less than 80 full caps.
McGree has eight international caps to his name with the prospect of many more to come if he establishes himself as a Boro regular. Ironically, he played his first games in Britain under Aitor Karanka at Birmingham City on loan from Charlotte, but really flourished under Lee Bowyer. Now Boro looks set to reap the benefits. How far can McGree go with Boro? Can he emulate the achievements of one of Boro’s best Australians? That’s up to Riley to decide.