Kent: The other side of the Immortals debate
IT remains one of rugby league's blacker moments. If indeed it is true.
As the Team of the Century was announced in 2008, drawn from a list of the game's 100 greatest players named several months earlier, sharp looks began circling the room.
He made it? Where's so-and-so?
For many of those in the room the realisation quickly began to descend that Queensland players were nudging out their NSW rivals in the vote for the game's greatest players.
Allegations have dogged the game since that the Queensland judges secretly colluded to vote en bloc, galvanising their vote to push Queensland players past NSW players who might be splitting their votes among the judges.
The Queenslanders involved have always denied this.
They might have just been voting to their conscience.
I asked one about it one day, some years back. He was deeply insulted.
Either way, it has dogged the game since. It speaks to the tremendous distrust between states that, in the naming of Australian players, a division still ran along state lines.
So old wounds were opened Monday when the NRL announced that it would reinvigorate the Rugby League Hall of Fame, returning the proper prestige to the best players in the game, and that two new Immortals would be announced at the season's end.
The Immortals are one of the most sacred clubs in Australian sport.
An accidental success, the Immortals began in 1981 as a Rugby League Week promotion for port. It became so successful the NRL paid the best part of $2 million to take ownership off the magazine last year.
Back in '81, the idea was to simply find the four best players to have played the game since the war ended 1945, a time chosen so the four selectors could say they saw them personally play.
It eliminated the possibility of Dally Messenger or Dave Brown or Frank Burge from ever being nominated, even though Burge and Messenger were named in the Team of the Century.
Steps have been taken to ensure the voting process for the Immortals and Hall of Fame are not polluted this time around. All 100 greatest players named in late 2007 are automatic inductions.
A further six will be added August 1.
Both votes will be taken separately.
Already a steering committee chaired by Roy Masters and comprising Wally Lewis, Phil Rothfield, Debbie Spillane, Geoff Armstrong, Yvonne Sampson and David Middleton have nominated 25 players to be considered for the Hall of Fame.
Those 25 players will be given to the voting college, yet to be formed.
They will be made up of 10 current Hall of Famers, five media, five historians and five independents who will vote on a 5-4-3-2-1 basis.
The top six in the tally will be named in the Hall of Fame.
The 25 up for consideration will be announced next month.
The night before, the SCG boardroom is booked for the meeting everyone has an opinion on.
The next Immortals.
Up to two will be named and already the jockeying has begun.
The process was put together by former Penrith and South Sydney prop Frank Puletua, who heads up the NRL's strategic projects.
Again, a rigid process has been put around the voting process.
A screening committee, yet to be appointed, will nominate 12 players for consideration.
Puletua was quite deliberate why.
"It removes the opportunity to collude or conspire," he said, and hallelujah to that.
That last thing the next Immortals need is a question mark on them.
The 12 players will go to a selection panel of 12, yet to be appointed but which will likely include three of the four living Immortals, Bob Fulton, Andrew Johns and Wally Lewis, with Johnny Raper's ill health preventing him taking part.
Other protocols are also in place.
If a player is short-listed for nomination three times but fails to be Immortalised he will be forever removed from the voting.
"The process that we were very strong on, in our view, was that not all players are going to be Immortals," Puletua said.
"If you're unfortunate enough to not be inducted within that cycle that's just, unfortunately, how it is going to go."
It prevents people lining up former players until they are eventually elected, as some seem intent on doing.
And, in keeping with the original premise, Puletua said the judges will be urged, but not prevented, from considering their
"We're strong on preserving a number of elements from the previous criteria," he said.
"The original criteria doesn't talk to coaching records. In terms of the moral or ethical argument about the players off-field, we're going to leave that to the individual judge's discretion."
Most important is, simply, to get it right.
The overriding principle is a simple one.
The strength of the Immortals is the quality of player who is not an Immortal.