How do you split the likes of Lockyer and Meninga?

The Oxford Dictionary tells us an ‘immortal’ is someone who lives forever, someone who is remembered forever, and someone of enduring fame.

Rugby league has eight of them.

The late Clive Churchill (died 1985), Bob Fulton, Reg Gasnier (died 2014), and Johnny Raper were the inaugural inductees to The Immortals club back in 1981.

It was another 18 years before Graeme Langlands (died 2018) and Wally Lewis became Immortals numbers five and six in 1999.

Legendary State of Origin figure Arthur Beetson forced his way into the elite club in 2003 before Andrew Johns was elevated to greatness in 2012 – the eighth and final member.

Nobody could question the playing skills of any of the eight members, although the selection of Newcastle’s champion halfback, after he publicly admitted to taking drugs during his playing career, generated some rigorous debate.

The Immortals is one of the toughest clubs in world sport to crack.

There’s no argument each of the eight players was a superstar in their own right.

The 1981 brainchild of the now-defunct rugby league bible known as Rugby League Week magazine, The Immortals is now the property of the National Rugby League (NRL), which is where I believe it belongs, given they are the game’s controlling body.

While it always had credibility under its former owners, the space between inductees - 18 years for the second intake to be announced and then another nine years between Beetson and Johns - has always been a bone of contention.

There is a strong argument that eight immortals in 110 years does not do justice or truly reflect some of the magnificent players who’ve graced our playing fields in over a century of rugby league.

Many great players, some who changed how the game is played, and others who achieved greatness in so many other ways through their skill, toughness, longevity and leadership, missed out.

Under the new owners those players should now be recognised through a new rugby league Hall of Fame club.

However, that will not end the Immortals debate which has raged for almost four decades.

The NRL has the opportunity to recognise many of rugby league’s former greats like Norm Provan, Ron Coote, Ken Irvine, Brett Kenny, Peter Sterling, Allan Langer and so many other wonderful players.

Norm Provan and Arthur Summons
Norm Provan and Arthur Summons

NRL boss Todd Greenberg has confirmed an eighth Immortal will be unveiled this season - with Provan, Mal Meninga and Darren Lockyer the front-runners.

The previous criteria to be considered an immortal were at times confusing, but Greenberg has assured fans that will no longer be the case under its new owners.

“We will have a very diligent process around our Hall of Fame and, ultimately, on the election of an Immortal, and you can stand by for some big announcements on that in the coming month,” Greenberg declared after the NRL purchased the rights.

“Rest assured there will be an election of an Immortal in 2018 and there’ll be a much greater diligent process about how that is unfolding.

Greenberg said the NRL would adopt a “much more transparent process” so fans have a better understanding of how the concept works.

Take Provan’s case as an example.

He has been on The Immortals shortlist for many years and is again one of the candidates with Mal Meninga and Darren Lockyer to be the ninth player into the club.

The former St George captain, after whom the Provan-Arthur Summons premiership trophy is named, has surely earned his place as an Immortal, but both Meninga and Lockyer have admirers.

Like Lockyer, Meninga was an inspiring player and captain and also the man behind Queensland’s amazing eight straight State of Origin series wins, a feat which may never be repeated.

How do you split those three players?

Johnathan Thurston, Cameron Smith and Billy Slater
Johnathan Thurston, Cameron Smith and Billy Slater

Then you have the next conundrum – Johnathan Thurston, Cameron Smith and Billy Slater.

Immortal invitations must surely be in the mail to those players, but who do you choose?

Whatever happens, the NRL has an opportunity to update The Immortals club with several new additions and also introduce a new category that recognises rugby league’s champion players, rather than just a handful of its superstars.

Keep The Immortals for the game’s very best.

But change the criteria to allow the inclusion of more than one player per decade.

And why wait five years to acknowledge what these special players have given to the game?

I know there are players of the century and teams of the century.

But let’s do more to recognise and accept that there have been more than eight wonderful players in our game since 1908.

 

Wayne 'Ticker' Heming is a veteran rugby league correspondent and parochial Queenslander who has attended more than 100 State of Origin matches.