Who should be the eighth rugby league Immortal?
It seems it’s a toss up between Andrew Johns and Mal Meninga as to who should be announced as rugby league’s eighth Immortal this Thursday.
To be honest, if one has to be picked, I think it has to be Meninga, given the dominance he had over his position for such a long period of time compared to Johns, even though Johns may be the greatest halfback of all-time (still debatable).
In the Australian jersey, Meninga was an almighty force and it’s tough to class John’s career as equal given the different levels and series types of international rugby league across the decades.
But given Meninga played 46 matches (23 as captain) and Johns played in 25 matches (captained from 2002-03) but was never selected as starting halfback ahead of Ricky Stuart and Allan Langer, you’d have to give the edge to Meninga.
In State of Origin, you would have to say Meninga had a greater career even though Johns had more Man of the Match awards (Johns 4 vs Meninga 1).
Meninga played in 32 matches (nine as captain) and was involved in five series wins as a starting centre, whereas Johns played in 23 matches (six as captain) and was involved in four series wins, only two of which he featured as starting half back.
That was the thing with John’s Origin career: if the Super League war didn’t happen, he probably would have played less than 20 Origin games, and wouldn’t have started as halfback until 1998 as he would’ve have struggled to be selected ahead of Ricky Stuart, and to a lesser extent Geoff Toovey and Greg Alexander.
Even after losing the 1998 and 1999 series as starting halfback, he spent the next couple of seasons at hooker so that Brett Kimmorley could be included in the NSW squad.
In contrast, a fit Meninga was a first choice selection at centre throughout his career for good reason: he dominated his position and was a big factor in winning games just by his presence.
I used to fear for a young Brad Fittler’s life when he was lined up against Meninga in the centres in the early 1990’s.
Johns didn’t have that sort of dominance in Origin until 2003 and 2005 when he was playing against arguably the worst Queensland Origin sides in history, both in talent and desire.
In the Australian domestic leagues, Meninga played in five grand finals and won three (as captain) which stands above Johns’ record of two wins from two grand finals, especially given one was from the 1997 split season in a team that was found to have players taking performance enhancing drugs and Newcastle were realistically perhaps the fourth or fifth best team in the nation.
And who knows how many NSWRL competitions Meninga could have influenced had he moved from South Brisbane prior to 1986?
Meninga even had a superior English domestic league career, winning a title with St Helens in his sole season outside of Australia.
In the end, Meninga is probably a better choice than Johns as rugby league’s eighth Immortal.
However, I honestly don’t think the sport is ready for another immortal until Darren Lockyer qualifies.