With each passing year, the legend of snooker’s ‘Class of ’92’ – Ronnie O’Sullivan, John Higgins and Mark Williams – grows ever larger as the legendary trio continue to compete at the very highest level of our sport.
But what of another notable duo who have also gone on to enjoy sustained success over a 15-year period? Below we consider the achievements of Mark Selby and Neil Robertson and ask whether they are underestimated when ranking snooker’s all-time greats.
The Class of ’92
With the dominance of Steve Davis still fresh in the memory and a new star in the form of Stephen Hendry in the midst of his golden era, the early 1990s would usher in a new generation of players, many of whom continue to compete to a high standard some 30 years on.
Of those, Ronnie O’Sullivan, John Higgins and Mark Williams in particular have made an indelible mark upon our sport, sharing a combined 89 ranking event titles between them, including 13 of the last 23 World Championship crowns won. The trio have long since earned their places in snooker’s hall of fame and remain firmly ranked within the world’s top 16.
But while the Class of ’92 are perhaps snooker’s most famous trio, they will also be associated with some of the players that turned professional at a similar time.
In 1994 the circuit welcomed future world champion Graeme Dott and two-time runner-up Matthew Stevens, with Stuart Bingham and Paul Hunter following a year later. A further four current professionals turned professional in 1996, with Barry Hawkins and Ali Carter both going on to reach World Championship finals.
The Next Generation
It is perhaps the intake from 1998-1999 which marked the start of the next generation however, with six ranking event winners, including three world champions having first turned professional during these years.
Marco Fu, Ryan Day and Stephen Maguire have each won multiple ranking events, while Shaun Murphy has gone further still by winning nine ranking event titles to date, including each of snooker’s fabled Triple Crown Series tournaments during his career.
But – in terms of volume of ranking events won at least – there are two players who stand out with both Mark Selby and Neil Robertson having each gone on to enjoy highly successful careers in the sport. To date, the pair have each earned 18 ranking crowns and gone on to become world number one, two of the many parallels in their respective careers.
Neither had an easy journey to the top. In Robertson’s case he had the oft under-appreciated challenge of moving halfway around the world to compete in what was at the time a UK dominated sport. Twice he was relegated from the main tour, before in 2003 regaining his place and ultimately staying there ever since.
For Selby, the Leicester man had to contend with the death of his father just two months before he turned professional at the age of 16 in 1999. Already his mother had walked out on him eight years prior.
It was in 2003 however that both made a breakthrough on the World Snooker Tour, Robertson by qualifying for the Masters for the first time by winning the qualifying event, while Selby reached his first ranking final at the Scottish Open. Two years later the pair both made their Crucible debuts by qualifying for the final stages of the World Championship for the first time.
Robertson would be the first to claim a major ranking event title with his capture of the 2006 Grand Prix, with Selby reaching his first world final later in the season and going on to claim his first silverware in 2008 with the Masters and Welsh Open titles.
Since then the pair have gone on to thrive in one of snooker’s most competitive eras, both ascending to the top of snooker’s world rankings and going on to life multiple triple crown titles. They share a close head to head record, Selby ahead overall (19-15), with Robertson edging their ranking encounters (7-6).
- 36 ranking event titles (57 finals)
- 12 triple crown titles (18 finals)
- 2 Champion of Champions titles
- 11 Minor ranking event titles
Without any doubt the pair have been among the most important players of the past decade and continue to remain a force at the highest level, Selby having already claimed silverware this season and Robertson having narrowly missed out at the English Open.
But how do their figures stack up against the big three?
The Impossible Comparison
For followers of any sport the quest to rank its greats is impossible to ignore. Whether Messi or Ronaldo, Federer or Nadal, Hamilton or Schumacher – or in the case of snooker Hendry or O’Sullivan, opinions will inevitably remain divided.
This is especially so when comparing players of different eras and though Selby and Robertson have shared their careers with the Class of ’92, the circumstances when they turned professional were already significantly different.
But we are not looking to say that they were better or worse, but to try and uncover whether their own achievements are comparable and what conclusions can be drawn.
From the start of the 2006/7 season, in other words the winning span since Robertson’s first ranking title to Selby’s recent victory at the European Masters in August, we can see that the pair match up well with the Class of ’92.
During that most recent period the pair have won 36 ranking titles between them, just two short of the 38 claimed by Ronnie O’Sullivan (19), John Higgins (13) and Mark Williams (6).
With 13 triple crown titles won alone by O’Sullivan, added to four by Higgins and one for Williams, the Class of ’92 hold an 18-12 lead at the sport’s majors, while Selby and Robertson lead 11-8 on minor ranking event titles – i.e. Players Tour Championship and European Tour competitions.
The Early Years
But of course, the above comparison is not like for like, comparing arguably the peak years of Selby and Robertson, to the later years of O’Sullivan, Higgins and Williams.
From turning professional in 1992, the big three secured a staggering 52 ranking titles during their first 15 years, with an even division among the trio of O’Sullivan (18), Higgins (18) and Williams (16). By comparison Selby and Robertson had won just eight between 1998-2012, six by Robertson before Selby truly hit his stride after his maiden World Championship success in 2014.
As with the previous comparison, the picture is not as clear as it would first appear as the snooker landscape has changed significantly since the early 1990s – not least because of the impact of the Class of ’92 themselves and the differences in general standard and number of tournaments available.
While it was once not uncommon to see teenagers or players in their early 20s lifting major silverware, it is now far more uncommon than in the past with Yan Bingtao’s win at the 2019 Riga Masters representing the first teenage win since Ding Junhui’s success at the 2006 Northern Ireland Trophy.
When Steve Davis claimed his six and final world title at the age of 31, or Stephen Hendry his magnificent seventh barely four months on from his 30th birthday, few would have expected the success of the ‘older’ players that we have seen in the years since as the ‘peak’ of a player continues to be redefined.
It was not until turning 29 that Judd Trump would capture snooker’s holy grail for the first time in 2019 and he is a player now widely expected to be a leading contender for top honours for many years to come.
Perhaps then the most interesting comparison is of the winning span of Selby and Robertson since 2006, to the comparable period for the big three from O’Sullivan’s famous victory at the 1993 UK Championship.
On this basis the 36 titles secured by Selby and Robertson compares favourably to the 52 won by snooker’s holy trinity, while their 12 triple crown titles is on average only slightly edged by the 20 claimed by O’Sullivan, Higgins and Williams.
By 2002 the Class of ’92 had each enjoyed a spell at number one, at a time when the rankings were updated once a year, while Selby and Robertson achieved that feat in 2011 and 2010 respectively.
Do They Compare?
Ultimately any such comparison is never equal and of course the legacy of any player will extend beyond mere statistics with the opposition each faced, the respective head to head records and style of play coming into the consideration.
However while the records of the legendary Class of ’92 will endure long after they are gone, it is also fair to say that the achievements of both Mark Selby and Neil Robertson during the current era should also not be taken for granted, nor underestimated.
With all five players still ranked firmly inside of the world’s top 16 in 2020, time will tell as to how their respective achievements will be viewed in the future and what the legacy will be of not only the Class of ’92, but the leading graduates from the class that followed…
Article by Matt Huart (@ProSnookerBlog).