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Nearly Immortals: The best of the rest

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Roar Guru
6th May, 2022
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We all know of the time-honoured tradition of the NRL Immortals. 

It was started in the early 1980s to sell bottles of port. The original list of four has swelled to 13 amid much pomp and ceremony, debate and controversy.

Each year we see a raft of commentary on future Immortals, should-be Immortals, should-never-have-been Immortals and ‘I can’t believe it’s not Immortal’.

I participate as enthusiastically as anyone.

So I thought I’d produce a team of players who at some point have been thrown up as possibilities but have not yet made the cut, or likely never will.

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Just to remind you, here are the 13 current Immortals, therefore ineligible for this team: Clive Churchill, Graeme Langlands, Reg Gasnier, Bob Fulton, Dave Brown, Dally Messenger, Mal Meninga, Wally Lewis, Andrew Johns, John Raper, Frank Burge, Norm Provan and Arthur Beetson.

Se here is my team of almost Immortals:

Fullback: Billy Slater
Category: Future Immortal
‘Billy the Kid’ is an even-money chance of becoming the third fullback Immortal at some point.

True greatness over a long period made the impossible possible: Clive Churchill was compared to another player.

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Alternatives: I don’t see any truly unlucky players in the rest of the fullback ranks, with maybe Les Johns, Graeme Eadie, old timer Howard Hallett and current star James Tedesco forming the next tier.

To be honest, the main alternative is sitting down at five-eighth.

Billy Slater

(Photo by Kelly Defina/Getty Images)

Winger: Ken Irvine
Category: Could be Immortal
Wingers appear to be undervalued in the Immortals ranks and Ken Irvine scored more tries than any of them.

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His biggest problem might be that the Immortals have already welcomed plenty of players from the 1960s and 1970s era.

Winger: Brian Bevan
Category: Does he fit as an Immortal?
There is no doubt that the balding, knobbly-kneed, chain-smoking wonder was the greatest try scorer in rugby league history, it’s just that he did it in England.

Alternatives: Souths legend Harold Horder from the 1920s would have come under serious consideration when the NRL added their pre-War players.

Players like Johnny King and Brian Carlson were not considered to be quite in Irvine’s class. After that, Eric Grothe’s chances were likely destroyed by injury but it was good while it lasted.

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Centre: Steve Rogers
Category: Could be Immortal
The ‘Prince of Centres’ is the standout here given Gasnier, Fulton, Brown, Messenger, Meninga and Langlands have wiped the centre position clean. Rogers would sit well in that company.

Big Mal Meninga with the Green Machine

(Photo by Getty Images)

Centre: Jim Craig
Category: Should be Immortal
I’d say Jim Craig missed out to the likes of Dave Brown purely for having the gall to play for Ipswich for part of his career. Roarer AMD put a very compelling case forward recently.

Alternatives: The importance of the centre has started to make a comeback after years of decline, but alternatives are currently thin on the ground after half the existing Immortals played there.

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Three options would be ‘Gentleman’ Tom Gorman and Les Cubitt, the best centres in the 1920s, and Greg Inglis, where talk of Immortal status for this amazing athlete seems to have died away.

Just quietly, Gene Miles lost nothing in comparison to Big Mal.

Five-eighth: Darren Lockyer
Category: Should be Immortal
If Johns is there, his great rival should be as well. Longevity, success and influence, Lockyer had it all in spades.

Alternatives: The best from the 1970s and 1980s are already in. But there is one criminal omission from at least being in discussions: Brett Kenny, possibly the most gifted player from a golden era.

The other is Vic Hey, universally considered the greatest five-eighth before Fulton and Lewis. Brad Fittler and Laurie Daley also come into the conversation from time to time, not without merit.

The other interesting possibility is Eric Weissel, who in in the early 1930s was considered by some the best player since Messenger.

He suffered by never leaving NSW Country to play in the Sydney competition. Even so, he was an automatic selection for Australia throughout his career.

Halfback: Allan Langer
Category: Nearly Immortal
Langer’s comical persona has taken away from a remarkable career where he dominated the 1990s and did everything possible in the game.

Wayne Bennett has been an advocate, as you’d expect. Langer’s record stacks up very well against Andrew Johns and his short kicking game changed the sport.

Langer-Lazarus

(Photo by Patrick Riviere/Getty Images)

Alternatives: So many, given the importance of the halfback in our game. They could all have easily been selected instead of Langer, which probably makes a case that they all just miss out or all should be in together.

Peter Sterling, Johnathan Thurston, Cooper Cronk, Steve Mortimer, Tommy Raudonikis, Keith Holman. If you go right back then Duncan Thompson, Chris McKivat and Arthur ‘Pony’ Halloway sit in this company.

Lock: Ron Coote
Category: In an Immortal’s shadow
If not for Johnny Raper, Ron Coote would be an Immortal. A brilliant player on both sides of the ball and a winner of multiple premierships with two clubs, Coote had everything.

Alternatives: They are definitely next tier to Coote although all worthy Hall of Fame members: Ray Price, Wayne Pearce, Brad Clyde and Wally Prigg.

Second row: Steve Menzies
Category: Seemed Immortal
There are not many second-row Immortals other than Norm Provan and Frank Burge. So either second rowers are ignored or they just aren’t that good.

Steve Menzies played an unbelievable amount of games, scored an unbelievable amount of tries and barely played a bad game or made a mistake in 20 years of football.

Is that enough to be Immortal? He made it hard to dislike Manly, so that’s some Immortal effort right there.

Steve Menzies of the Northern Eagles

(Photo by Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images)

Second row: Bob McCarthy
Category: Making up the numbers
No offence to such a great player, but second-row alternatives are thin on the ground. McCarthy is not in the conversation.

Alternatives: you tell me. Arthur Clues, like Harry Bath and Brian Bevan, was lost to Australian rugby league after only a glimpse of what he would become.

To be fair, I was struggling here.

Prop: Glenn Lazarus
Category: Should be Immortal
The ‘Brick With Eyes’ was the modern era’s greatest prop without question. Premierships with three clubs seals the deal.

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Prop: Duncan Hall
Category: Ever so close but not quite Immortal
Hall was the standout in an incredibly tough era, winning titles wherever he went. But I see him as slightly below the absolute legendary aura that Immortals should have.

Alternatives: Plenty given that the front row is where games are won. Harry Bath was a legend in Queensland, Balmain, England and St George. There is possibly no one more worthy.

Then you have the tough-as-teak players throughout the years such as Noel Kelly, Ray Stehr, Herb Steinohrt, John ‘Lurch’ O’Neill and Steve ‘Blocker’ Roach.

Hooker: Cameron Smith
Category: Immortal in waiting
Apparently no hooker so far has been good enough to be an Immortal of our game. That will all change the minute Cameron Smith becomes eligible.

There are no credible arguments against it.

Cameron Smith of the Storm is chaired from the field

(Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

Alternatives: There is no one who comes close to Smith, but there are plenty on the next tier who don’t quite make it, such as Ben Elias, Danny Buderus and Steve Walters.

Going further back, Noel Kelly was more a prop in my mind, but is also just below the cut off. The St George dynasty produced two worthy contenders in Ian Walsh and ‘Killer’ Ken Kearney.

Then there is rugby league’s first great hooker Sid ‘Sandy’ Pearce and 1920s Toowoomba legend Dan Dempsey.

So who gets the next tap on the shoulder? A modern superstar or an overlooked legend?

One thing is for sure, this is a pretty handy team that might not quite fit under the salary cap.

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