Craddock: New Immortals rights past wrongs

 

EIGHT Immortals in 37 years - then five in two hours. That's rugby league folks.

When news broke that five - not two - new Immortals would be named in Sydney, the instant conclusion was that rugby league had again been exposed as a game of steel with rules of rubber.

For weeks - months - we were told a maximum of two Immortals would be inducted and suddenly the number is doubled plus an extra one in thrown in like a baker giving you a bonus bread roll.

But after the initial headshake the reality set in that the real mistake was not made in this year's vote on Tuesday but 37 years ago when the concept was born.

Mal Meninga deservedly joins the game’s greats. (AAP Image/Brendon Thorne)
Mal Meninga deservedly joins the game’s greats. (AAP Image/Brendon Thorne)

Wednesday night was about righting the wrongs of the past and, clumsy though it may have seemed, justice has been done.

Way back when it was invented in 1981 no-one thought the Immortals concept - which initially surrounded the release of a bottle of port - would become the long-lasting product which would long outlast the plonk it was named after.

That was why, all those year ago, the decision was made to rule out anyone who played before the Second World War in a move which would keep it modern, fresh, fun and fan friendly.

But as the project grew so did the cringe rating of the fact that the first 40 years of the game had effectively been airbrushed out of history.

Norm Provan was recognised for his contribution to the game.
Norm Provan was recognised for his contribution to the game.

Once the NRL purchased the rights to the Immortals they were duty bound to open its doors and trek way back to the origins of the game in 1908.

Not having players from the pre-War era in rugby league's list of Immortals was like cricket's Hall of Fame ignoring Don Bradman or Phar Lap missing out in racing's version because they played in the wrong era. It demeans the credibility of the entire project.

Dally Messenger has been recognised as an Immortal.
Dally Messenger has been recognised as an Immortal.

So came the big adjustment as Dally Messenger, Dave Brown and Frank Burge were pitchforked from the game's distant past after a marathon debate by the judges. All were sound choices.

Had Messenger not jumped the fence from rugby union to start the professional game there may have never been rugby league in Australia. Enough said.

"Chunky'' Burge, the remarkable forward who played for seven Sydney clubs and was a century ahead of his time with strict diets, all year training and sports psychology, after playing first grade at 14.

That forward Dave Brown was known as the Bradman of league says enough of the points-scoring ability.

For all the credence given to the old timers - the more recent inclusions of St George great Norm Provan and Mal Meninga were the emotional keys of the night.

If there is a rugby league heaven then Meninga must have felt his one-time Origin coach Arthur Beetson was looking down with pride on one of his favourite players joining him in the small but illustrious group of league Immortals.

Provan also had a soft spot for Beetson that ran so deep that he even cancelled his own 80th birthday part to make sure he attended Beetson's memorial service at Suncorp Stadium.

That's the sort of man the game can be proud to call an Immortal.



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