CLUB LEGEND: Robbie O’Davis won two grand finals with Newcastle and represented Queensland and Australia. He would be a worthy addition to the club’s Hall of Fame.THE Immortals is a wonderful concept based on a perplexing process.
Much as I love the nostalgia of celebrating and honouring rugby league’s greatest champions, and have marvelled at the archival vision of their playing days, the business of selecting them has been as random as a dog’s breakfast.
The original Immortals –Clive Churchill, Reg Gasnier, Johnny Raper and Bob Fulton –were chosen in 1981 as a promotional gimmick, designed to boost sales for a Hunter Valley vineyard and Rugby League Week magazine.
There was something slightly mythical about the notion of four players, all of whom were before my time, being so far above and beyond anyone else who had ever played the game that they were considered worthy of their own exclusive club.
And so they remained for 18 years, until it was decided they needed some company.
That Wally Lewis was inducted next was no great surprise. He was, after all, “the King” of the 1980s, the man who almost single-handedly put State of Origin on the map.
What was slightly harder to fathom was the inclusion of Graeme Langlands. If he was considered in 1981 and overlooked, did this now mean the goalposts had moved?
It was a similarly vexing dilemma in 2003, when Arthur Beetson was added to the list, despite having failed to make the grade four years earlier.
This week five moreplayers were inducted. Three of them –Dally Messenger, Dave Brown and Frank Burge –were installed after revamping the criteria to consider players before World War II for the first time.
The others were Norm Provan and Mal Meninga, who had previously missed the cut four and three times respectively.
Adding to the confusion (at least in my own head), Meninga was named in 2008 as starting centre in the Australian Rugby League’s team of the century.
Fulton, who played centre in Manly’s 1972 and 1973 grand final victories, was chosen on the bench, despite (at the time) outranking Meninga with his Immortal status.
Meanwhile, atWednesday’s unveiling of the five new inductees, Darren Lockyer was regarded as anunlucky omission. The former Brisbane, Queensland and Kangaroos captain, however, isseemingly a shoo-infor the next induction opportunity, in 2022.
“The feeling was perhaps that Locky’s time will come,” selection-panel chairman Ian Heads said afterwards.
In other words, Lockyer has to wait in the queue, unlike Joey Johns, who was fast-tracked at the first available opportunity.
None of which, incidentally, is designed to query the credentials of the 13 men chosen, all of whom have beenthoroughly deserving.
On the subject of honour rolls, perhaps it would be timely for the Newcastle Knights to tap into the interest generated by the Immortals and expand their own Hall of Fame.
Newcastle’s Hall of Fame was founded in 2012, and the inaugural inductees were Andrew Johns, Paul Harragon, Michael Hagan, Matt Gidley and the late Allan McMahon.
Two years later, Danny Buderus, Tony Butterfield and Mark Sargent were included.
It is now four years since there were any additions, although apparentlythere were discussions around that subject last year that amounted to nothing.
My understanding is the selection panel –Michael Hill, Leigh Maughan, Allan Bell, Brett Keeble and Mike Rabbitt – are available to update the Hall of Fame whenever their services are required.
But they first need to be commissioned by Knights management.
Given that the club’s annual presentation dinner is only a matter of weeks away, I would suggestthere is no time like the present.
A Hall of Fame induction, or two, would be a highlight of the evening.
As for the likely candidates, I would find it hard to split Kurt Gidley, Robbie O’Davis and Malcolm Reilly.
Gidley played in 251 first-grade games for Newcastle, second only to Buderus, and also 12 Tests and 12 Origins, captaining NSW in the 2009 and 2010 series.
He held the club together during some lean seasons.
O’Davis is one of only five players to have featured in both Newcastle’s grand final triumphs, earning the Clive Churchill Medal in 1997.
With 223 games, 12 Origins and six Tests to his name, he retired, reluctantly, in 2004 as a club legend.
If McMahon was the coach who laid the foundations in Newcastle’s formative seasons, Reilly was the man who took the club to the next level and convinced a talented group of players they could become champions.
After steering the Knights to their unforgettable premiership win in 1997, he returned to Yorkshire a year later, becoming one of the few coaches to leave a club on his own terms, still revered by his players and the club’s supporters.
Other names such as Steve Simpson, Adam MacDougall, Matthew Johns, Timana Tahu, Ben Kennedy, Adam Muir, Marc Glanville, Mark Hughes and Bill Peden deserve to feature in discussions.
Eventually all warrant inclusion in Newcastle’s Hall of Fame. Hopefully they won’t be kept waiting as long as some of the Immortals.