2) NEIL ROBERTSON (Australia)
Years as professional: 1998-
Ranking titles: 4
Ranking finals: 4
Other titles: 0
Highest ranking: 7
Years in top 16: 4
Crucible appearances: 5
One of the best long potters the game has ever seen, Robertson combines a ferocious talent with a bit of Aussie swagger.
He played snooker as a child because his father ran a club in Melbourne and first turned professional as a 16 year-old in 1998. It had all come a bit too quickly for him and he was relegated.
With the cost of travelling to the UK and entering tournaments spiralling, he had thoughts of quitting but won the IBSF world junior title and returned to the circuit.
His first ranking event quarter-final came at the 2004 European Open in Malta and a year later he became only the fifth Australian to play at the Crucible.
He was improving all the time and his move to Cambridge, though difficult at first, eventually saw him settle into life on the professional circuit.
In the 2006/07 season, Robertson won two ranking titles, the Grand Prix and Welsh Open.
Perhaps encumbered with his own expectations, his career then stalled a little but new life was breathed into it last season when he captured the Bahrain Championship title and reached the World Championship semi-finals 27 years after Eddie Charlton’s last appearance there.
At the Grand Prix this season he won his fourth ranking title from four finals, making him the most prodigious ranking event winner outside the UK and Ireland.
The years to come will decide whether he takes over at the top of this list. He is good enough to be world champion but so were a lot of other players who ultimately came up short.
1) CLIFF THORBURN (Canada)
Years as professional: 1972-1996
Ranking titles: 2
Ranking finals: 10
Other titles: 13
Highest ranking: 1
Years in top 16: 14
Crucible appearances: 15
With his Tom Selleck-moustache, Thorburn was a leading housewives favourite in an era of housewives favourites.
He came from the hard living North American snooker and pool sub culture and established himself as one of snooker’s ultimate hard men, with his gritty, determined style.
Thorburn reached the first Crucible final in 1977, losing out to John Spencer, but became the first international player to be world champion (apart from Horace Lindrum, who won a heavily disputed 1952 event) in 1980.
Thorburn edged Alex Higgins 18-16 in an epic battle which the BBC – to the fury of many viewers – interrupted to show the SAS storming the besieged Iranian embassy in London.
Thorburn thus became one of snooker’s top dogs of the 1980s, winning the Wembley Masters three times and, in 1981, spending a season as world no.1.
Despite his tournament victories, he is probably best known in the UK for making the first Crucible maximum in 1983.
The image of him sinking to his knees after the final black goes in is one of the most iconic in snooker history.
That match, against Terry Griffiths, did not end until 3.51am – the latest ever Crucible finish – which further enhanced Thorburn’s reputation as the ‘Grinder’. He reached the final that year but was heavily defeated by Steve Davis, the nemesis for him and just about every other 80s player.
He had his problems – including a drugs ban later in his career – but remained one of the game’s most charismatic stars.
His career declined in the 1990s and he lost 10-9 to Nigel Bond in the first round of the 1994 World Championship having led 9-2.
He reached the Thailand Open semi-finals in 1995 but retired from the circuit the following year.
Whenever Thorburn returns to the UK, particularly at the Crucible, he is regarded as a legend.
World champion, world no.1, ten ranking finals, a Crucible maximum...the best there has ever been from outside the British Isles.