In the lead up to Wednesday nights NRL Hall of Fame Induction and Immortals announcement there was just one thing League fans agreed on – that the NRL would stuff it up. Yet to the disbelief and delight of most, they didn’t just exceed this admitedly low expectation, they nailed their brief perfectly. In a night that was a beautiful acknowledgement of the history of the game, the NRL seemed to enhance the stature of the Immortals concept.
Throughout the lead up to the night, the public was told that just one, or perhaps two, players would be elevated to Immortal status. As a result there was much angst as to how the selection panel would come to a suitable resolution to the questionnof who of the 10 nominees should join the likes of Wally Lewis, Bob Fulton and Clive Churchill in the exclusive club. It also led to a pleasant surprise early in the evening.
In almost his first piece of business for the night, NRL CEO Todd Greenberg announced that in a unanimous decision it had been decided to elevate all three pre-World War II nominees – Dally Messenger, Dave Brown & Frank Burge. Anybody who has ever been on a committe or in any kind of meeting, can attest to the difficulty of a unanimous decision. That there wasn’t even one dissenting voice illustrates how fitting the determination was.
Without discussing the individual merits of each man, and they are compelling, it was a neccessary acknowledegement to all of the codes forefathers and the games history. Once these men became eligible, it seemed almost vulgar that Andrew Johns, a man retired in the last 15 years, was acknowledged and none of these pioneers. As a result, it seemed only right that the committee chose to correct this rather than hide behind the announced restriction of two elevations.
It was an opportunity the game could not afford to miss and now the Immortals reflect the full history of Rugby League from 1908 to the present.
If anyone was still unsure of the significance of proceedings, it wouldnt be the case after seeing the acceptance speeches of those inducted to the Hall of Fame. Watching tough men like Mark Graham and Gorden Tallis visibly moved as they reflected on their careers and the honour bestowed upon them, simultaneously illustrated what the night was about and prompted the question why this hadn’t been done earlier.
For nearly 40 years Immortal status was an unofficial honour, with Rugby League authorities refusing to acknowledge the concept which had been the birthchild of Rugby League Week magazine. With the end of the long running weekly in 2017, their was a change of heart from the NRL who chose to take ownership of the award and bestow it themselves into the future.
With Graham and Tallis inducted to the Hall of Fame, along with Ricky Stuart, Steve Menzies, Cliff Lyons and Petero Civoniceva, attention returned to the task of elevating two more immortals. Having made such a brilliant beginning to their custodianship of the Immortals concept, would the panel be able to back it up with their next decisions?
To be fair, there is an argument that ‘brilliant beginning’ might only be true if you believe that the ends justify the means. While we have quite rightly lauded the decisions of the selection committee, there was much consternation in the lead up to the gala evening about the NRL’s handling of it’s composition.
In relation to this Immortals selection panel, I have been given the shaft and Todd Greenberg the gold mine. No one spoke to me except to waste an hour of my time inviting me. But who gives a rats. The only thing immortal about the administration is its incompetence.
The Grand Slam winning Wallabies Coach wasn’t the only person aggrieved at being approached by the NRL to join the selection panel only to find out they’d been overlooked through news of the committee sitting without them. Phil Rothfield, Ray Hadley and Geoff Prenter were also vocal in their disappointment. Rothfield going so far as to acknowledge his omission in a newspaper article which suggested the NRL had the most incompetent sporting administration in the country. The Daily Telegraph’s Sports Editor, and general sad sack, wasn’t finished there though. “A mob that couldn’t run a junior league canteen, let alone a multi billion-dollar business,” was Rothfield’s final characterisation of the NRL board.
A simple reason for the communication breakdown might be the eventual size of the final committee. Given that the final panel was a ten person affair just staying in touch with all of them would have been difficult enough let alone those who didn’t make the cut. Geoff Prenter, Founding Editor of Rugby League Week, believed more conspiratorial forces were at play.
“I would’ve voted for Norm Provan!” Prenter told Fox Sports. “I voted for him last time when Andrew Johns got on… That’s maybe why they dumped me.”
“I’m a Provan fan I would’ve voted for Provan this time… that could be the conspiracy. Maybe they realise there’s a Provan bloc there and they don’t want it.” Having shared this position, it would now be interesting to discover what his thoughts were sitting at home in his tin foil hat when the St George icon was announced as the 12th Immortal.
An absolute giant of the game, Provan was the driving force behind ten of St George’s 11 consecutive premership run during the 1950 and 60’s. The fourth of those Dragons to be elevated, his selection seemed long overdue given the other three have long acknowledged him as the best player of the all conquering team.
With all due respect to the other nominees, the next elevation was as obvious as it was fitting. Mal Meninga, with the exception of the world’s shortest political career, the four-time Kangaroo tourist was an unrivaled leader and an absolute force of nature.
READ: Mal Meninga: Immortal
Amidst the outpouring of platitudes in response to Meninga’s honour, our friends at The Sportress perhaps described him best. He was thirty years before his time, a million kilograms of power and pace, capable of bowling over defenders through the line and outpacing them to score. He was a yardage back before they existed. So much of what that era’s Raiders did was predicated on his ability to break tackles (and the line) at will. Every time he ran the ball it felt like to took four or five defenders to get him down. He was a the rolling momentum of a good set personified. He dominated the game from the moment he started playing professionally until the last day of his career. There was no let up.
On reflection, I think the @NRL has actually done more with the Immortals in the last 36 hours than @LeagueWeek did since inventing it – which is as big a compliment as I can think of. Very classy to induct three pre-war players the way they did, congrats to all involved.
— Steve Mascord (@therealsteavis) August 1, 2018
Mascord’s tweet, coming as it did from a former Rugby League Week contributor, felt like high praise of the NRL’s handling of the magazine’s baby. It was well earned to, with the governing body managing to give reverence to a concept originally devised to sell tawny port. For a sport that has been ridiculously negligent in acknowledging their past and their heroes, they now seem to have the perfect vehicle to honour both. Long may it continue.
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CLASS OF 2018