Wally Lewis and Mark Geyer face off in State of Origin, 1991.

How do you portray 110 years of rugby league with one photo?

The simple answer is you can't.

That's why a new book about rugby league between 1908 and 2018, written by respected journalist Martin Lenehan with 20 grand finals and 60 State of Origin matches behind him, doesn't have a photo on the cover.

Instead the title '110 Years of Rugby League' has a tagline instead that makes you want to open the cover and turn each page anyway: The History. The Heroes. The Heart.

Lenehan spent 22 years with "the bible" known as Rugby League Week magazine.

"I guess the benefit of that is that your cover on the magazine is the first point of sale and words on your cover are so crucial," he said. "We often used that kind of catchy alliteration to try to get people in.

"The three 'H's then came into being. There have been so many good history books about rugby league that we didn't want it to look like all the other ones that had gone before it.

"Everyone who follows the game have their heroes – that's what can get you in because you want to watch everything they do.

"The third 'H' just sums up rugby league players and why people love them because of the heart they put into it; the courage; the commitment."

110 Years of Rugby League: The history. The heroes. The heart.
110 Years of Rugby League: The history. The heroes. The heart.

The eight chapters cover the clubs, the Kangaroos and Origin stars. But there is no chapter on coaches, although some good pictures of the great Jack Gibson in his fur coat bring a smile.

"At one stage we had about 20 chapters… there was one on Indigenous footballers, brothers who'd played together, and coaches," Lenehan said.

"But we thought we could pay tribute to all those people within the photos and words of the eight chapters we decided on.

"The Clubs chapter I also ran through quite a lot of coaches, especially when player-coaches were in vogue like Jack Rayner, Ken Kearney and Norm Provan.

"The nature of the book is that the photos are so spectacular, so don't over-write the book. As it is the eight chapters are about 25 pages each and honestly there was another 200 photos that could have gone in there.

"Some photos we put an extended story on them, like with Johnathan Thurston."

The shot taken by NRL photographer Grant Trouville of Thurston with his oldest daughter Frankie, sitting on their own in the middle of ANZ Stadium on October 4, 2015, tugs on anyone's heart – even Broncos supporters.

Frankie is clasping a black doll in one arm and her dad's Clive Churchill Medal in the other. It brings Thurston's proud Indigenous heritage, his importance to the Cowboys, his significance to the game, and the reality that he's also a Dad and a mentor for his children all together in one image.

'The King' Wally Lewis writes the foreword telling the story of how his first contact with rugby league was not as a player but being the mascot for the Under-18s Wynnum-Manly Seagulls. He went out to do the coin toss with the captains.

It was 1963 and Lewis was three years-old.

"I'd get to keep the shilling coin so dad used to joke that I was a professional immediately!" Lewis said.

Andrew Fifita after the 2016 grand final.
Andrew Fifita after the 2016 grand final. ©NRL Photos

So why did Lenehan decide on the 110th anniversary of the game?

"The centenary was so beautifully done anyway. And for me I was at Rugby League Week until the end of 2017 so this was the first opportunity to be an author of anything," he said.

"I never really saw it in my future when I was at Rugby League Week. Bauer Media decided they wanted to do a couple of rugby league books and went to the NRL, who in turn called me.

"So good timing that it was 2018 and the 110th anniversary."

And will the second book be for the 120th?

"It's actually 40 years of Origin which comes in 2020," Lenehan said.

"My wife keeps telling me that rugby league is my life's work and my passion – and it absolutely is.

"That is why this book was so much fun to do because every photo I looked at, had a story. And every person I spoke to like Wally Lewis or Steve Roach brought the photos to life even further."

Exhibit A would have to be one of the earliest photos in the book, and one not seen by fans before.

It is Andrew Fifita in the near-vacant, partially-lit ANZ Stadium. He is wearing his 'Premiers 2016' T-shirt lying face up on the ANZ Stadium turf, right under the southern-end goal posts, where he scored the match-winning try for Cronulla just hours earlier.

If a picture tells a thousand words then this is 1,001.

'110 Years of Rugby League' by Martin Lenehan is available from all good bookstores.