NRL rugby league footy
NRL rugby league footy

Why less Immortals can still be more

AT some point Wednesday night Allan Langer snuck up behind and clubbed me.

I am not sure what calibre club was used. Probably a Louisville Slugger, judging by the size of headache the next morning.

Ricky Stuart thought it might have more to do with Alf's usual trick of stacking the table with shot glasses filled with a variety of angry liquids that range from Sambuca to tequila to fireballs, a shot of whiskey with a little cinnamon bite.

Mal Meninga was sure it was. He got the tequila and felt the same club.

It was heading towards midnight after the Hall of Fame announcements and the Lord Roberts Hotel in Darlinghurst was filled with a special kind of rugby league royalty.

Meninga was there just hours after being elevated from the Hall of Fame to become the 13th Immortal.

Stuart was there, newly inducted. His friendship with Langer is one of the great testaments to rugby league and what it can do.

They were the toughest of rivals during their careers. Each cost the other Test appearances. They were the dominant halves of their era even though they played completely different styles and yet what grew between them was a respect that turned to friendship and then ultimately something more.

Gorden Tallis was another fresh inductee.

He wowed them with his speech Wednesday night.

Tallis spoke of something more, of the volunteers and canteen workers and junior coaches, people lost in time whom he could never hope to repay, whose commitment ultimately gave him a life he never would have got anywhere else.

Indeed, every new inductee spoke of the commitment from others during their days as a junior that helped them get to the stage Wednesday night.

It was a gentle reminder of what the game must protect.

As Tallis got downstairs from his hotel room after the ceremony he saw another inductee, the great Mark Graham, looking for a place to continue to celebrate. Graham was with fellow Hall of Famers Kerry Boustead and Steve Walters.

Tallis dragged them to the Lord Roberts.

It was one of those nights that, if it were a movie, they would film in slow motion.

Old friends laughing and reliving old glories, the achievement in the room balanced by their respect for each other.

Every now and then rugby league gets lucky.

Wednesday was one of those nights.

Something works and nobody can explain why.

State of Origin was meant to be a failure. For years the NSW Rugby League resisted and only the courage of Kevin Humphreys to stand up against the powerful clubs saw the game go ahead at all.

Then Arthur Beetson ensured it could never be stopped.

Nobody knows why the Immortals works.

It began as a port promotion for Rugby League Week in 1981 and somewhere it took on a life of its own.

Part of the reason for its success, you have to believe, was the exclusivity of the original four - Clive Churchill, John Raper, Reg Gasnier and Bob Fulton - and the debate generated of others it was claimed should be there.

Mal Meninga was made an Immortal on Wednesday night. Picture: Brett Costello.
Mal Meninga was made an Immortal on Wednesday night. Picture: Brett Costello.

It created its own momentum.

The AFL would kill for a concept like the Immortals.

They tried it themselves.

When the AFL got its Hall of Fame pumping along the Hall a Legends room.

They considered calling them Immortals but conceded it would be too obvious a dip to rugby league's idea and so the Legends were created.

But the AFL got it right.

The NRL is yet to do so.

Wednesday's announcement to induct five Immortals was a 6.9 on the Richter scale.

It was a tremendous idea to have Dally Messenger, Frank Burge and Dave Brown bypass the voting process and be automatically inducted.

It made sense.

Moving ahead, though, another captain's call needs to be made.

Dally Messenger and Dave Brown were included.
Dally Messenger and Dave Brown were included.

The success of the Immortals has always been its exclusivity. It sparks the never ending debate about who else should be there.

The current rule to induct up to two Immortals every four years risks undermining the very trait that makes the Immortals great.

It takes just a quick look at the NRL's two longest current careers, Cameron Smith and Paul Gallen, to see how quickly the purity of the Immortals can be corrupted. Smith and Gallen go back to 2001.

If the current system was in operation during just their playing careers many as 10 Immortals would have been inducted (in 2018, 2014, 2010, 2006, 2002).

It is too many.

There are now 13 Immortals among the 106 within the Hall of Fame, from 111 seasons of rugby league.

The AFL has strict procedures around the elevation of its Hall of Famers to Legend status.

Whatever the total Hall of Famers, only 10 per cent can become Legends.

There is currently 251 AFL Hall of Famers, so 25 Legends.

The NRL is now ahead of that ratio and, with up to two being named every four years, risks racing ahead.

It is the surest way to spoil the Immortals concept. Too many Immortals will create a Hall within the Hall, reducing the Hall of Fame to secondary status.

The temptation to commercialise the Immortals is the what the NRL must resist.

It is there anyway.

The way for the NRL to maintain momentum is a subtle shift in emphasis towards the Hall of Fame.

Then every so often, perhaps once in a generation, an Immortal is elevated.

It must be something worth waiting for.

It was an idea discussed and generally agreed to in the late hours Wednesday night.

Each understood the importance of the Immortals, and equally the Hall of Fame.

Eventually the party moved from the Lord Roberts to the Strand Hotel around the corner.

The Strand is where Barney Dalton was shot and killed in 1929.

Dalton played on the wing for Eastern Suburbs outside Dally Messenger before choosing sides with Kate Leigh during the razor wars that dominated Sydney.

Immortality comes in many ways.

NRL.COM'S PLAYER POLL A FARCE

RUGBY league fans should be mighty concerned at the NRL's lack of transparency regarding its own players poll published this week on its website.

It is a symbol of the contempt the game shows for its fans.

As the NRL's in-house media machine pumped the results for the game's best coach, according to the players, or the club they would most like to play for, carefully cut from the poll results were startling revelation that more than half the players believed clubs were deliberately exploiting the concussion rule for free interchanges.

If the NRL cannot be honest about something like this, what else are they not telling us?

Elsewhere, questions are being asked about a betting sting 10 years ago that involved a senior official now working within NRL headquarters.

This after the NRL's claim that the allegations were cleared after being investigated by police when two figures central to the investigation, bookmaker Con Kafataris and then head of statistics Andrew Moufarrige, revealed to my colleague Buzz Rothfield they were not interviewed by police at all.

This, as the NRL tells us, after only one player manager from the Parramatta salary cap scandal was guilty of wrongdoing.

That Manly were guilty of cheating the salary cap so much that Immortal Bob Fulton was told he is no longer welcome in the game, even though the NRL has still not provided Fulton with the evidence they have used to ban him.

In matters of integrity, the NRL has used up its goodwill and must be more transparent.



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