Why’s he retiring?
Among the 25 contenders for Australian Rugby League Hall of Fame selection, the name Eric Weissel got a mention, to which non-historians might ask, ‘Eric who’?
Legendary England captain Jonty Parkin described Weissel as the greatest player he’d ever seen, after playing against Weissel’s Southern Districts on the 1928 Lions tour of Australia.
But then, non-historians might ask ‘Jonty who’?
When Weissel retired, he was described as the greatest all-round exponent of football since Dally Messenger.
No need to ask ‘Dally who?’ at least, and thereby hangs several tales.
In 1959, an Australian sporting magazine named its two best Australian teams since 1908.
The firsts backline was Clive Churchill, Johnny Graves, Dally Messenger, Dan Frawley (a winger on the first two Kangaroo tours), Harold Horder, Weissel and Duncan Thompson.
Only two of those players, Churchill and Graves, played post-war.
Dave Brown was the noticeable omission from the top-team backline, to accommodate Frawley.
The two teams were dotted with now-forgotten names like father and son forwards Sandy and Joe Pearce, Howard Hallett, Ray Stehr, Cec Blinkhorn, Frank Burge and Mick Madsen.
Few post-war players got guernseys.
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Had an inaugural induction of Immortals been made in 1959, Many of those names would have been contenders, though they’re now forgotten.
One name certainly isn’t: Dally Messenger.
When Reg Gasnier announced himself with three tries in in the first Test of the 1959 Kangaroos tour, the pronouncement was made: the new Dally Messenger.
That’s because Dally M was first in the rugby league pantheon; the legend that stood above. In the rugby league world, he remains up there with Don Bradman and Phar Lap; the specific achievements mightn’t be known, but the name is recognised.
Yet the shock selection when a best-ever Australian team was announced was Mal Meninga in place of Dally M.
Not that Meninga doesn’t deserve selection in any best-ever team. It’s just that in nominating Ron Coote as the best player he’d coached, Jack Gibson said “and it doesn’t matter where you play him”.
You could name Messenger as fullback, halfback, prop, hooker, anywhere. Known as ‘The Master’, Dally M is the name that forever will define the game – the original, the one that rings down the ages.
Rugby league’s annual awards are called the Dally Ms – not the Meningas, nor the Gasniers – yet the legend couldn’t get a guernsey in a best-ever team.
The Master has to be the first one picked among the new Immortals if rugby league is to rectify its error. No argument if the likes of Burge, Brown and Weissel get guernseys too, recognising the should-be-legends who built the game.