The Immortals Andrew Johns, Graeme Langlands, Bob Fulton, Wally Lewis and Johnny Raper.
The Immortals Andrew Johns, Graeme Langlands, Bob Fulton, Wally Lewis and Johnny Raper.

Kent: Too many stars, only two Immortals

TWO Immortals get named on Wednesday night.

The eight who miss out go on death row. One strike down, two to go.

The system is fair to a point, but in this new version there is hidden an unfair bias against the three pre-War players up for induction.

The NRL must change this or else risk losing a magnificent part of the game's legacy.

 

When the next Immortals are announced, at a flash ceremony at the Sydney Cricket Ground, Dally Messenger, Frank Burge and Dave Brown are nominated for the first time.

Against that, Norm Provan, Ken Irvine, Duncan Hall and Ron Coote were considered all four times when the previous eight Immortals were named.

Their first was in 1981.

Back then, the judges decided on Clive Churchill, Reg Gasnier, Johnny Raper and Bob Fulton.

They insisted the Immortals had to come from players they saw and so a cut-off point was decided. Those who played only after World War II were considered.

 

Brian Bevan remains something of a rugby league myth.
Brian Bevan remains something of a rugby league myth.

 

Brian Bevan was also not considered given the productive years of his career were in England. There was no internet back then and the legend of Bevan drifted back only in second-hand conversations and wire reports.

He scored 696 tries in 796 games.

By the time the second grouping of Immortals was named in 1999, Graeme Langlands and Wally Lewis getting the gongs, Mal Meninga was five years retired and also up for consideration.

Alongside Provan, Irvine, Hall and Coote, who missed out again.

The next time it came up, in 2003, all five were again considered before Arthur Beetson was ultimately inducted.

Messenger, Burge and Brown were still ineligible, Bevan still not considered.

Then it happened again in 2012.

Provan, Irvine, Hall and Coote were up for their fourth go round, Meninga his third, with the others still not considered.

 

Beetson was inducted in 2003. (Guy Wilmott)
Beetson was inducted in 2003. (Guy Wilmott)

Andrew Johns went past them to become the eighth.

Then it all changed.

The NRL took over the award and Frank Puletua has done a strong job modernising the Immortals concept and ensuring that the exclusivity remains.

The strength of the Immortals, remember, is best judged by the quality of player who can't make the group.

One of Puletua's first decisions was to make a three strikes policy. It is common and necessary for Halls of Fame around the world.

It prevents weak candidates getting through. It ends the endless debate such as that rugby league is going through now.

So for the first time a shortlist was announced, 10 candidates all worthy

 

Norm Provan is still under consideration. (Gregg Porteous)
Norm Provan is still under consideration. (Gregg Porteous)

 

On Tuesday the 10 judges made their way to the SCG Trust boardroom to debate the merits of each candidate before leaving the room to privately cast their votes.

It was all very civil. The surrounds of the SCG brought fond memories.

Fulton and Wayne Bennett, one of the judges, locked horns there in the 1987 grand final. Phil Gould, another judge, played the 1981 grand final there in 1981.

The meeting went for a good five hours or so before each stood and walked into a separate area to vote on his choice of the next Immortals on a 3, 2, 1 basis.

The top two go through, provided they accumulate 20 per cent of the overall vote.

But what of the pioneers, the pre-War men?

 

Mal Meninga, up for a fourth time, has many supporters.
Mal Meninga, up for a fourth time, has many supporters.

 

While this is Provan, Irvine, Hall and Coote's fifth time for consideration, and the fourth for Meninga, it is the first for Messenger, Brown, Burge.

It is also the first for Bevan and the first for Darren Lockyer, who retired in 2011.

If, as many predict, the voting goes to the popular and sentimental, Meninga and Provan, then Messenger, Burge and Brown will have a strike against them.

Never mind, though. Under the rules another two Immortals will be up again in four years.

But only two.

That leaves several over but, again, never mind as there will be another chance to get the right men in then. It happens again in another four years.

 

The late, great Dally Messenger has finally received his due.
The late, great Dally Messenger has finally received his due.

 

But it is worth remembering that with each fresh round new players become eligible.

Potentially, six of this lot will face a third strike.

And by the time they face the executioner's axe then Johnathan Thurston and most likely Cameron Smith will be eligible. And surely they have to be named.

The logjam is a problem the game must solve.

It has happened only because the guidelines have changed, a sudden expansion of worthy candidates from those who played before World War II and were not previously eligible.

It is impossible to think Messenger might ultimately be ineligible forever when the game's annual award for its best player, the Dally M Award, is named after him.

But under the current system it is possible.

The NRL must fix it.

 

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