Is it time for Allan Langer to be made an Immortal?

When Brad Thorn was asked at a Men of League dual-international luncheon who was the greatest footballer he had played with or against, his answer was Allan Langer.

Stop and think about that answer for a moment, before considering whether Langer should be an Immortal.

Thorn, for two decades, played with the greatest club and international teams of the modern era in both rugby league and rugby union, including the Broncos, Crusaders, Maroons, Kangaroos and All Blacks. He also played against the best.

It was an opportunity, if Thorn had felt so inclined, to name All Blacks teammates Dan Carter or Richie McCaw…or in the league world, maybe Darren Lockyer or Andrew Johns.

Steve Ricketts, who covered rugby league for The Courier Mail full-time from 1981 until 2012, was at the luncheon.

"Brad was asked who was the best player he’d played with or against, and without hesitation he said Allan Langer," Ricketts recalled.

Allan Langer playing for Queensland in 1987. Photo: NRL Images
Allan Langer playing for Queensland in 1987. Photo: NRL Images

When he was then asked why, Ricketts said Thorn had replied:

"Because you could always rely on Alfie to win you a game. In fact, he sometimes made us forwards a bit lazy because we just looked over to Alfie and thought 'you’ll do something now won’t you... you’ll do one of your little grubber kicks through the line and we’ll score'."

Ricketts continued; "Brad said he’d never played with or against an individual with that impact on the game, which I thought was an amazing wrap". 

Thirteen giants of the game have been inducted as Immortals.

Langer, one of the smallest to ever lace a boot, is not amongst them…not yet.

There is no mathematical equation for Immortality, but when Wayne Bennett told NRL.com last year that Langer was "the best Bronco" and the most influential player of all time at the club he coached for 25 years, it begged a pertinent question.

Kevin Walters and Allan Langer in 1998. Photo: NRL Images
Kevin Walters and Allan Langer in 1998. Photo: NRL Images

How is it that the greatest player at the most successful club of the 1990s, and of the last 30 years, is not recognised as an Immortal?

The author of this story visited Mrs Rita Langer’s home in Ipswich in 2017 to compile a story to mark the 30-year anniversary of her son’s Origin debut.

While gazing at the back yard, which was haven of green for as far as the eye could see and in pristine condition, it was not hard to imagine a young Allan and his brothers fine-tuning their skills decades earlier on rugby league’s version of the Garden of Eden.

It was those same skills Langer would bring to the fore on the biggest stage for 15 years where he transformed the rugby league field into a living hell for opponents and a paradise for his teammates.

The saying "cometh the hour, cometh the man" is one the Ipswich larrikin defined.

In 1998, the game of rugby league was at the cross roads. With the wounds of the Super League war still raw, the State of Origin series was crying out for a healthy sprinkling of magic dust. Fortunately, a magician was on hand.  

Allan Langer playing for Queensland as a youngster. Photo: NRL Images
Allan Langer playing for Queensland as a youngster. Photo: NRL Images

It was three short kicks by Langer that produced the first three Queensland tries and in the final minute, his decision to take play to the right led to the Tonie Carroll try which gave the Maroons a famous 24-23 win. It was a formality that he be awarded the man of the match. In the decider, it was Langer again who sealed the deal with a step here, a step there and another step over there… to bamboozle Brad Fittler, Matt Johns and Tim Brasher on the way to the tryline.

That Origin series encapsulated Langer as the match-winning maestro in a tiny frame, but it was nothing new. He’d done it so many times before, and he would do it again.

Consider 1987. Langer was plucked from the Ipswich Jets in the BRL to make his Maroons debut and the pressure was enormous. The Blues had won two series on the trot, Queensland coach Wayne Bennett’s head was on the chopping block and several of Langer’s teammates had their doubts about whether a man of his size could handle the Origin cauldron. Even Bennett had to be convinced by Maroons selector Dud Beattie and Ipswich coach Tommy Raudonikis that he was the best option in Queensland available.

Allan Langer playing for Queensland in 1996. Photo: NRL Images
Allan Langer playing for Queensland in 1996. Photo: NRL Images

Langer delivered from the get-go and was man of the match in the series decider at Lang Park. The next year, he won the gong in Game I when Queensland’s talisman Wally Lewis missing the only Origin game of his career.

Fast forward to 2001. It was Game III, the series on the line and the secret flight from England delivered Langer to a moment where he had everything to lose. Could the 34-year-old produce the goods? He produced all right.

Langer won four man of the match awards for Queensland in 34 Origin games spanning 15 years.

As for his 258-game club career and four premierships as captain with the Broncos, including a Clive Churchill medal in 1992…it is best to defer to Bennett for the verdict.

Allan Langer in action. Photo: NRL Images
Allan Langer in action. Photo: NRL Images

"He was a star for a decade," Bennett said.

"In my opinion, he was the best player in the game for a decade."

Thorn’s assessment of Langer hits the nail on the head when you consider all his teammates speak of the surety they had when he was on the field - that the game would be won and that the No.7 would be the catalyst; they didn’t call him "the money man" for nothing.  

The arguments against Langer’s Immortal claims seem to always hinge on his 24-game Test career. He was overlooked for Ricky Stuart for Australia in the 1994 Ashes series, some say.

Dig deeper and several of the current Immortals have occasionally been on the outer with representative selectors or shifted to another position for the sheer balance of a team been. Andrew Johns played hooker for Australia in 10 of his 23 Tests, and in two of those matches Langer was preferred at halfback.  Mal Meninga played two Tests off the bench and one in the second-row in the Ashes series of 1986.   Arthur Beetson spent time in reserve grade at the end of his career. None of those circumstances detract from the stellar careers of those Immortals.

Maroons legend Gene Miles makes another observation about Langer’s greatness when he points to two rules being changed because of his influence.

A master at stealing the ball from players twice his size, that rule was changed to only allow for ball stealing in a one-on-one situation. The tackling rule, to nullify the famous 'Langer throw', was also tweaked so that a defender had to have two hands on the attacker rather than one.

Ricketts, also the secretary of the QRL History Committee and panel judge of the 2008 Team of the Century, hails from NSW and does not have Maroon blinkers on.

He voted for Langer as halfback in the Team of the Century - ultimately an honour bestowed upon Andrew Johns - and is still of the view that he is the best number seven he has seen.

"I don’t think anyone could argue against Alfie being given that Immortal status," Ricketts said.

Bennett, who was on the judging panel for the Immortals when Johns was inducted and when the five new additions to the list were made last year by the NRL, said Langer had somehow fallen through the cracks with regard to Immortality.

Allan Langer in action for Queensland in 2001. Photo: NRL Images
Allan Langer in action for Queensland in 2001. Photo: NRL Images

"Alf got lost in it all…but if he’d been down in NSW, Alf would have been Immortalised there is no doubt about that," Bennett said.

"I don’t just reckon. I know…and he may well yet be one."

Langer is set to be immortalised in bronze at the front of Suncorp Stadium; whether his name is added to the illustrious list of Immortals that now numbers 13 remains to be seen.

"He is worthy," Gene Miles said.

"To be his size and his weight and play in a game that is so physical… and yet he could do things that us mortals couldn’t do."

Allan Langer at the 2016 Queensland training camp. Photo: NRL Images
Allan Langer at the 2016 Queensland training camp. Photo: NRL Images