Johns drives wedge between Immortals and Hall of Fame
158 Have your say
Should Andrew Johns be named as an Immortal? (AAP Image/Tracey Nearmy)
I would like to heartily congratulate Andrew Johns on being the eighth player added to the list of rugby league Immortals.
The Immortals is a concept which was founded in 1981 by Rugby League Week magazine, as there was no Hall of Fame for rugby league at the time. The Immortals has no ‘official’ tag, nor is it affiliated in any way with the game’s administration at any level.
With that said, it’s quite remarkable that the Immortals holds such high standing in the game.
While there was no Hall of Fame when it began, that changed in 2002 when one was established by the ARL. It immediately drew comparisons with the Immortals concept as the original inductees were the six Immortals at the time – Clive Churchill, Reg Gasnier, Johnny Raper, Graeme Langlands, Bob Fulton and Wally Lewis.
For each year following, a spate of legendary league players were added, until there was a total of 30 inductees by 2007. Further additions were halted by celebrations and events surrounding the centenary of the game in Australia.
This culminated with the naming of both the Australian Team of the Century and the Greatest 100 Australian Players of the Century.
By this time, a seventh Immortal had also been added, Arthur Beetson.
By the end of the centenary year, rugby league in Australia had seven Immortals, 30 Hall-of-Famers, 17 players and a coach in the Team of the Century, and a further 100 legends in the Greatest 100 Players list.
All seven Immortals were present in all lists, although two of them (Bob Fulton and Graeme Langlands) could only make the bench in the Team of the Century.
Despite being limited to an exclusive size of 18 with the Hall of Fame consisting of 30 members to date, Andrew Johns, Noel Kelly and Jack Gibson hold the distinction of being the only three members of the Team of the Century who aren’t in the Hall of Fame.
The exclusion of Jack Gibson is understandable as the Hall of Fame does not yet include individuals who aren’t selected as players – i.e. legendary referees, coaches and administrators.
Andrew Johns’ exclusion can also be put down to the fact that he only retired in 2007, and the Hall of Fame requires that a player has been retired for five years before gaining entry – not possible in 2008.
This probably throws into question either the inclusion of Noel Kelly in the Team of the Century, or his exclusion from the Hall of Fame to date. However, the exclusion problem can easily be rectified in all three cases by simply updating the Hall of Fame list.
With all that said, the plethora of ‘best player’ lists, with all their inconsistencies, has been further thrown into disarray with the naming of Johns as the eighth Immortal.
Being an award concocted by the media for the media, the brains trust behind the naming of an eighth Immortal would have cared little that the game’s governing body has left the Hall of Fame to gather dust since the centenary celebrations in 2008.
It has been mooted previously that the NSWRL/ARL/NRL/ARLC would like to grant the Immortals concept some degree of official recognition.
However it would not be easy to pry the name from the grasp of Rugby League Week’s publisher ACP, who no doubt regard the award and its high standing in the game as a good way to sell magazines.
What further complicates the issue is the naming of Johns in the Immortals list. While he has already stated that he feels like the game of rugby league has forgiven him after being named in the Team of the Century, one would expect entry into an officially recognised Hall of Fame to be a tougher prospect.
The majority of sports with a well-established Hall of Fame include administrators, officials and coaches. With that said it is clearly going to take more than just playing ability to get in.
When judged on playing ability alone, Andrew Johns is unquestionably qualified to make the cut of most top-five lists. However, his off-field indiscretions cast a huge shadow over his status as a potential Hall-of-Famer, which should be made up of individuals who had the greatest possible positive impact on the game.
They must be high achievers in the sport, and well respected in the community.
Andrew Johns falls well short on the latter point. Following his retirement, he was caught in possession of a banned substance, and subsequently revealed a long history of drug abuse which was covered up throughout his career.
He was also once suspended for verbally abusing a referee, shunned a presentation of the game ball by former player Jason Taylor after breaking his pointscoring record, and left the NSW coaching staff following racist remarks he made during a training session.
In short, it would not be a good look for rugby league if he was not only validated, but celebrated for his contribution to the game with entry into the Hall of Fame.
The Immortals concept has always clearly stated that it is judged purely on playing ability, so it cannot be questioned.
However a Hall of Fame means so much more. The balance of achievement by an individual, whether they were a player, coach, referee or administrator, as well as their contributions to the community, must be addressed.
To stand alongside greats such as Arthur Beetson and Mal Meninga, after it was claimed by former teammate Timana Tahu that Johns had a history of making racist comments, would throw the rugby league Hall of Fame into complete disrepute, especially when you look at the positive impact on the community the likes of Beetson and Meninga have made both during their playing career and after.
If the ARLC indeed want to bring the Immortals ‘in-house’ and integrate it with their existing Hall of Fame – which is clearly in need of a revival and revision – they will now have the sore point of Andrew Johns to contend with.
For now, the line in the sand has clearly been drawn. Before last night, the Immortals and Hall of Fame went well together.
Now they are looking a bit like the awards’ equivalent of the Super League split.