The Immortals: A concept drenched in wine

Matt Cleary Columnist

By Matt Cleary, Matt Cleary is a Roar Expert

Tagged:
 , , , ,

37 Have your say

    The Immortals began in 1981 as a vehicle to sell red wine.

    Wine, you see, was gaining a little toehold in an Australian drinking market that had heretofore been saturated to the point of near-monopoly by beer.

    Dear sweet beer. Aussies loved the stuff. When the MCG instituted a ‘one carton per man’ limit on how much patrons could bring in to watch the cricket, people fair dinkum wondered, “What is this, Russia?”

    People worried where such officiousness might lead, that authorities couldn’t trust adults to bring more than 24 cans into the cricket.

    And yet with mums and sometimes dads knocking back the odd cheeky Cinzano or vermouth, and pouring great fat glasses of riesling and Fruity Lexia from ingenious silver sacks we called ‘goon bags’, booze types knew: wine was a-comin’.

    Hell, Australians invented goon because you could get four or even five litres into one fat Coolabah cask, and you could squirt it out fast via the ingenious rubber tap thingy.

    Before casks, wine came in 750ml bottles with pesky corks, and posh crap on the label we didn’t understand and thus mocked. “Oh, ‘a dry and fruit bo-zha-lay’! La-di-da!”

    Indeed wine before 1980 was for ‘Shielas, Wogs and Poofters’, which was also the title of Johnny Warren’s crackerjack book that I once interviewed him about at the Clovelly Hotel, a brilliant afternoon and story I will write of another time if the soccer-football people let me, they can be a tad precious about who writes of their footy, the soccer-football folk, particularly now with the World Cup on.

    Anyway.

    The Immortals! Yes. The Immortals! Yes. The Immortals was a concept Elliot’s Wines (and not Penfold’s as the author originally mis-remembered) came up with in cahoots with in cahoots with the good burghers of Rugby League Week, the mighty organ known as ‘The Bible’ which once employed many schooner-drinking freelance journalists who’ve since been forced onto the very streets, perhaps to even get a ‘job’, a horror the equivalent of Guatemalan toddlers put in cages on the US-Mexican border.

    But not really.

    Anyhoo … yes. Yes! League Week and Penfolds came up with The Immortals, and named four superstar players ‘Immortals’ and trotted them out on to the Sydney Cricket Ground in the famous rugby league kit of Australia with the wattle-golden chevrons atop eucalyptus green.

    Rugby League immortal Reg Gasnier at NSW team of the century announcement in 2008

    And it was effectively a photo shoot, a promotional thing involving Clive Churchill, Reg Gasnier, John Raper and Bob Fulton, who were the best players the judges had ever seen.

    And there was the rub. Those judges – Harry Bath, Frank Hyde, Tom Goodman – had to have seen the players in the flesh. That’s why Dally Messenger and Dave Brown didn’t get a guernsey.

    Regardless, it became a phenom. The Immortals is rugby league’s upper pantheon, an antechamber above the Hall of Fame. It’s for the game’s gods. For Immortals who will never die.

    Their names won’t, anyway.

    Today the NRL’s best player wins the Dally Messenger. The best player in the grand final wins the Clive Churchill. Arthur Beetson and Wally Lewis have more things named after them than Kim Jong Un.

    Andrew ‘Joey’ Johns became the eighth Immortal prior to the Storm-Bulldogs grand final of 2012.

    At half-time he was dropped out of a helicopter onto the middle of ANZ Stadium to walk up a red carpet to a podium where waited his fellow Immortals to greet him. And if 10-year-old Joey had told his Cessnock primary school teacher this was his dream she’d have told his parents the boy was insane.

    Joey was the last Immortal inducted by League Week and the first one since Beetson in 2003. The Johns-voting panel included League Week’s editors past and present, along with a bunch of journos, historians and luminaries including Ray Warren, Wayne Bennett, David Middleton and Roy Masters.

    It also included previous Immortals, one of whom, ‘Chooky’ Raper, didn’t want Johns inducted. And he offered by one reason why not.

    “Drugs,” said Raper gruffly. And he was not to be budged.

    But nor was he heeded. For the Immortals are chosen only on playing ability, not any off-field malarkey.

    It’s an edict that could be tested if an Immortal-in-waiting commits a particularly heinous crime. Same with the incumbents. Langlands died in January while awaiting trial for six counts of indecent dealings with a girl under 16, charges which stemmed from the 1980s on the Gold Coast.

    Had he been prosecuted and sentenced, where would Chook – and the rest of us – stand on Chang remaining Immortal?

    Vexed argument, wot? Hard to talk about. Maybe one that as a collective we’ll just let slide off into history.

    As it stands you may still be an Immortal even if London Metro Police arrest you with a packet of disco biscuits in your sky-rocket.

    And that’s as it should be, in my opinion, and a whole other column that would see us all yap away like so many Mexican Chihuahua, for we do love a good morality play, humans.

    Like humans, Rugby League Week died, early in 2017 and the Australian Rugby League Commission bought it because it wanted The Immortals. It’s a legal thing, ownership of intellectual property.

    So ARLC and/or NRL, who can tell, owns the Immortals. And its judges have named a short-list of ten (10) potential Immortals which they’ll whittle down to two (2), probably. Then they’ll name them and unveil them and verily immortalise them.

    And chances are you have an opinion whom it should be. And we are getting close to the actual point of this wretched mangling of the English language, and it is this.

    Who should it be?

    Big Mal? Sticks Provan? Old mate Dally M?

    Dally Messenger

    Or Brian Bevan? The bald-headed running man scored 792 tries. Cam Smith plays 300 and we fairly venerate him. Bevan played 620 games for Warrington alone.

    Consider Ken Irvine, the free-running North Sydney Bear. He scored 212 tries across a period when the Bears were bad. Had Irvine been outside Immortals Gasnier and Langlands, and Billy Smith, and all the rest, he may have scored one thousand tries.

    Maybe not one thousand. But lots. Because Ken Irvine could run like the proverbial hairy goat afire.

    And what of Provan? Duncan Hall? Ron Coote? Tough buggers all. A vote for one of those guys is a vote for the league hard man. To that end, Noel Kelly and Glenn Lazarus must’ve been close.

    Surely in the next 10?

    What of Frank ‘Chunky’ Burge, the try-scoring forward, the Steve Menzies of his time? He played every forward position but hooker.

    In 149 games for Glebe Chunky scored 137 tries.

    Dally Messenger! Rugby league’s Jesus. The first one, the creator. He was the best rugby player in Australia. He crossed the Rubicon. He just about begat the code. And he dominated it.

    So – indulge me a sec. Well, more than you have.

    Last year I published a book called A Short History of Golf and if you were a good person you would Google me and buy it, and I would write a nice dedication in it.

    Anyway, in the book there’s a big fat chapter about my man, Greg Norman. And the more I researched and wrote of the man, and of Bobby Jones and Walter Hagen and Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods, and all the other Great Ones of Golf, the more I thought our Shark should be among them. In that pantheon.

    Sure, you can’t compare players from different eras. If Bubba Watson had been whacking drivers in 1864 next to Old Tom Morris they’d have burned Bubba as a witch. If Jason Taumalolo was bombing about for Glebe in 1910 they’d have Shanghai’d him to a freak show.

    Jason Taumalolo Tonga Rugby League World Cup 2017

    But you can compare a players’ dominance of an era. And G Norman – though he won but two majors – dominated his era. He was world No.1 for 331 weeks. Only Tiger’s been there for longer. Next best is Nick Faldo for 90 weeks. Norman won 90-odd times around the world. He was a freakin’ phenom.

    So, for mine, if you’re looking for your next Immortal, go with the bloke who dominated.

    Mal Meninga? A massive figure – but dominant above all others? Gene Miles can’t have been far off.

    Darren Lockyer? One of the greats. for sure. But do you put him up there with Wally and Joey as the standout player of his generation? What of my man Laurie Daley? And your man Brad Fittler? What of dear sweet Alfie?

    And thus, for mine, your next Immortal must have dominated, even re-invented the game. It’s why Cam Smith will be in the pantheon. And it’s why my next Immortals are:

    Dally Messenger.

    And Brian Bevan.

    Make of it what you will.

    Not that I reckon it will be them, mind. I reckon they’ll knight Norm Provan while he’s with us. Maybe Big Mal. Ronny Coote at a pinch. Maybe they’ll go one ancient, one modern.

    Regardless. It’s time for a nice glass of wine.

    Matt Cleary
    Matt Cleary

    Matt Cleary is a sports writer from Sydney. He enjoys golf, footy and Four Pines Pale Ale, and spends as much time as conscience allows at Long Reef GC. Tweet him @journomatcleary, or read him at his website.

    Getting hassled by a parent or partner about spending too much time playing video games? Now, you can tell them the story of how some ordinary gamers scored $225k for just seven weeks of work.

    Have Your Say



    If not logged in, please enter your name and email before submitting your comment. Please review our comments policy before posting on the Roar.

    Oldest | Newest | Most Recent

    The Crowd Says (37)

    • June 22nd 2018 @ 6:51am
      Geoff Dustby said | June 22nd 2018 @ 6:51am | ! Report

      story I will write of another time if the soccer-football people let me, they can be a tad precious about who writes of their footy, the soccer-football folk, particularly now with the World Cup is on

      Matt, I can give you a list of the custodians of the game, nemesis, punter etc on this site that you can seek permission from

      I recon we will have 59 comments from Maroons claiming that Joey was a dr-g cheat

      • Roar Rookie

        June 22nd 2018 @ 9:58am
        Don said | June 22nd 2018 @ 9:58am | ! Report

        The most logical thing the NRL could have done is; in this the first group of inductees under NRL stewardship, they should have inducted every player from the Team Of The Century (named in 2007) as Immortals.

        That would have seen every player currently in the 10 shortlisted with the exception of Dave Brown but with the deserved addition of Noel Kelly. All current Immortals are in that Team Of The Century.

        From there on it would have been simpler and a lot less controversial when inducting players from the modern game and arguing their careers against players from 50 years earlier.

        When Thurston and Smith are being discussed as Immortals we will still have the “what about Irvine, Coote, Belen etc” argument.

        • June 23rd 2018 @ 11:13am
          Michael Gannon said | June 23rd 2018 @ 11:13am | ! Report

          Good overview Team of the Century http://dazrl.awardspace.info/h_team_of_century.htm
          (HOF) indicates member of the Rugby League Hall of Fame
          (Immortal) indicates member of the Immortals of Rugby League
          Votes were cast by secret ballot with each judge first selecting his preferred Team of the Century, then ranking the top players in each position and finally choosing the 10 greatest players of all time. The panel was: Ferris Ashton, Frank Stanton, Cyril Connell, John Hayes, John McDonald, Chris Anderson, Greg Alexander, Mark Coyne, Ron Massey, Ian Heads, David Middleton, Sean Fagan, Geoff Armstrong, Ken Arthurson, John Quayle, Geoff Carr, Ray Chesterton, Roy Masters, Steve Ricketts, Gary Lester, Alan Clarkson, John McCoy, David Morrow, Kevin Brasch, Russell Fairfax, Warren Kimberley and Max Howell with David Gallop as the non-voting Chairman.

        • June 23rd 2018 @ 11:22am
          Michael Gannon said | June 23rd 2018 @ 11:22am | ! Report

          Good overview Team of the Century (HOF) indicates member of the Rugby League Hall of Fame
          (Immortal) indicates member of the Immortals of Rugby League. Fullback Clive Churchill (HOF) (Immortal)
          Wingers Ken Irvine (HOF) Brian Bevan (HOF) Centres Reg Gasnier (HOF) (Immortal) Mal Meninga (HOF) Five-Eighth Wally Lewis (HOF) (Immortal) Halfback Andrew Johns Lock Johnny Raper (HOF) (Immortal) Second Rowers Ron Coote (HOF) Norm Provan (HOF) Prop Fowards Duncan Hall (HOF) Arthur Beetson
          (HOF) (Immortal) Hooker Noel Kelly. Reserves Dally Messenger (HOF) Graeme Langlands (HOF) (Immortal)
          Bob Fulton (HOF) (Immortal) Frank Burge (HOF)

          Votes were cast by secret ballot with each judge first selecting his preferred Team of the Century, then ranking the top players in each position and finally choosing the 10 greatest players of all time. The panel was: Ferris Ashton, Frank Stanton, Cyril Connell, John Hayes, John McDonald, Chris Anderson, Greg Alexander, Mark Coyne, Ron Massey, Ian Heads, David Middleton, Sean Fagan, Geoff Armstrong, Ken Arthurson, John Quayle, Geoff Carr, Ray Chesterton, Roy Masters, Steve Ricketts, Gary Lester, Alan Clarkson, John McCoy, David Morrow, Kevin Brasch, Russell Fairfax, Warren Kimberley and Max Howell with David Gallop as the non-voting Chairman.

    • Roar Guru

      June 22nd 2018 @ 7:33am
      Con Scortis said | June 22nd 2018 @ 7:33am | ! Report

      I’d go Dally Messenger and Frank Burge. Or Norm Provan and Ken Irvine. Or Brian Bevan and Duncan Hall. Or Ron Coote and Bob McCarthy.

      I can’t decide. Now, should I go barbecue sauce or tomato sauce on my bacon and egg roll?

      • June 22nd 2018 @ 9:19am
        JohnB said | June 22nd 2018 @ 9:19am | ! Report

        Wouldn’t bacon and sausage be better?

    • June 22nd 2018 @ 8:40am
      Kenw said | June 22nd 2018 @ 8:40am | ! Report

      While I don’t want to start up the warned-off morality thread I think it’s interesting the man in the bowler hat – sober as a judge at all times I’m sure – wanted Joey left out due to his recreational activities. Glass houses and all that.

      Langlands was no immortal if the allegations against him were proven to be true. The timing of the accusation was unfortunate, occurring right at the end of his life when his mind was gone. He was either innocent, unable to defend himself or guilty and never made to face his crime. He is left in history with an asterisks to his name which is sad either way.

      Any way they go in the Top 10 is defensible but having opened it up for the pre-WW2 generations I think some catch-up is required. Dally M is the first superstar fo the game, none of us saw him play or truly know how good he was but his name is still celebrated (far beyond any of his peers) more than 100 years after he retired – if that doesn’t make him an immortal than the concept doesn’t hold water.

      For the other I’d probably go Provan – you could argue there’s too many 60’s Dragons in there but I think they’re overdue another forward and he’s the pick of them in my opinion.

      Brian Bevan is an interesting case because, amazing though his career was, he played almost all of his football in the UK comp. Is the Immortals a world-wide RL concept, is it only for Australians or is it for players in the Aussie comp/s? I would have instinctively said it was players in Australia – wouldn’t have any problems with a Pom or Kiwi player being named if they played their footy here but otherwise there’s a lot of UK players we need to start considering too.

      • June 22nd 2018 @ 12:35pm
        Paul said | June 22nd 2018 @ 12:35pm | ! Report

        great post Kenw. Completely agree with your comments and Messenger in particular.

        I was thinking about cricket doing something similar and creating an Immortals group. If you used the same “must have seen them criteria”, roughly half of thee guys, probably including a bloke called Bradman, would be ineligible.

        The lesson is simple – pick the guys who have clearly changed the game. Messenger was seen that way by his peers so he’s got to be given.

      • June 22nd 2018 @ 11:17pm
        tim said | June 22nd 2018 @ 11:17pm | ! Report

        When John Raper dies, there wil be a few articles about why he wasn’t fit to be an immortal that aren’t to do with simply drinking a lot.

    • Roar Rookie

      June 22nd 2018 @ 9:07am
      Don said | June 22nd 2018 @ 9:07am | ! Report

      Just a small correction Matt.

      The original Immortals plonk set of 4 was a Port and came from Elliot Wines in the Hunter not Penfolds.

      • Columnist

        June 22nd 2018 @ 11:51am
        Matt Cleary said | June 22nd 2018 @ 11:51am | ! Report

        My but I hate getting things wrong. Thanks mate.

        I’ll see about fixing that.

    • June 22nd 2018 @ 9:42am
      Lovey said | June 22nd 2018 @ 9:42am | ! Report

      The trouble with deciding who dominated the game is that this also depends on the quality of his peers. And note that three Immortals played in the same team. Do we have such a player now? I still think Thurston is the best I have seen, over a long period, but then there is Cameron Smith.

      Dally M definitely gets a guernsey for mine.

      • Columnist

        June 22nd 2018 @ 11:59am
        Matt Cleary said | June 22nd 2018 @ 11:59am | ! Report

        Yeah I take your point, a bit, but I don’t reckon the perceived quality of your fellow players and/or the competition at the time should come into it. You can only be the best of the best there is, at that time … Thus when Brian Bevan was running around, the England comp. was as strong as Sydney, maybe stronger, and their international team won as many as we did. A numbers / historian could debate this better. That’s just what I reckon – if you’re the best of your era, that’s all you can be.

    • June 22nd 2018 @ 10:03am
      no one in particular said | June 22nd 2018 @ 10:03am | ! Report

      The whole immortals concept is a w@nk.

      Just have a Hall of Fame, voted in by current members only, and leave it at that

      • June 22nd 2018 @ 9:33pm
        Brian George said | June 22nd 2018 @ 9:33pm | ! Report

        How do you start the hall of fame if the only way you can get into it is to be voted in by it’s existing members?

        • June 23rd 2018 @ 9:55am
          no one in particular said | June 23rd 2018 @ 9:55am | ! Report

          Hall of Fame currently exists and the 100 players from the 100 years are already in

    Explore:
    , , , ,