Mere Mortals: NRL Hall of Fame must replace the 'Immortals'
Grand Final Week - and it was just like the 80's, my team was back in a Grand Final, I was all excitement and anticipation (until the game where my emotions changed for the worse).by NRL
Grand Final Week - and it was just like the 80's, my team was back in a Grand Final, I was all excitement and anticipation (until the game where my emotions changed for the worse). Half-time came and the new 'Immortal' was inducted on stage along with the other living 'Immortals' or their proud family representatives.
All week, the talk was Meninga or Johns, Johns or Meninga, kind of like back in the 80's when having to switch the channel on an old Rank Arena TV with sports on two channels at the same time - you had to choose one or the other.
Today though, we don't need to choose just one sport or one channel, we can watch both at the same time or record one and watch the other later, so we get to see both, so why not the same for the Meninga or Johns debate, why not choose both?
Continuing the nostalgic trip, just like the old Rank Arena TVs, and the Bulldogs being back on Grand Final Day, a trip back to the 80's accentuates why the Immortals concept is flawed and the NRL needs to bring in a Rugby League Hall of Fame.
As a very young league fan, it's almost as if a whole generation of Rugby League Superstars and Legends has been erased - except for the occasionally firing synapses of Ray Warren's memory banks and references, or if they are in an official capacity or on TV, they have all but been erased almost as part of Rugby League History.
I grew up watching league in the mid-80s on TV, and used to practice my Steve Ella and Brett Kenny sidesteps past dads lemon tree or apricot tree in the backyard, or put in a grubber with a grapefruit into mums veggie patch like Peter Sterling, steamrolling the pot plants like Eric Grothe - or the chip and chase onto the corrugated iron roof or over the neighbours fence like Steve Mortimer. When it was raining it was indoors and running with mum's cushion as Terry Lamb and diving on the couch, with mum chasing behind with the wooden spoon flailing away like the defenders Lamb left in his wake nearly every weekend. Back to the present, my point is this - I was mimicking the heroes of the time, not just heroes but great, great players.
They were all legends of the game, and their achievements too numerous to mention, their success, consistency and performance on the field, over a long period of time, were amazing. These players, the products of the 80's (if not still involved in the game as a coach or by way of the media), have all but disappeared - their accomplishments all but erased except for the historical stat geeks, league historians and have been glossed over by the next new 'best ever' players - I mean who hears about Brett Kenny now? Who even knows how good he was (which was unbelievable)? What about his Bulldog arch-nemesis - Terry Lamb? Other than the odd reference, who knows that Lamb was the guy who played 349 games of 1st grade in a rugged era, and was a key man in a team that made 6 Grand Finals!! He was pretty much a consistent freak every week for 15 years! We won't forget to mention that Brett Kenny also played in 5 Grand Finals and was a real showman on the field.
I love the modern day players but the players back in the 80's were just as good in their time - not all new players are the best 'ever'. Think of new players like cars, the new guys might have bigger muscles (i.e. wheels), more tuned engines (diet and nutrition), air con and Sat Nav (modern training) - they might be better built and more easy on the eye but it doesn't mean they are better players.
Other players whom aren't immortals - that would immediately go into the Hall of Fame from the 80's would be players such as:
Mario Fenech, Phil Blake, Greg Alexander, Paul Vautin, Mal Meninga, Steve Roach, Ben Elias, Chris Mortimer, Michael O'Connor, Des Hasler, Tom Raudonikis, Gavin Miller, Andrew Ettingshausen, Andrew Farrar, Steve Morris, Kevin Hastings, Hugh McGahan, Craig Young, Mark Graham, John Dorahy, Garry Jack (now known as Kieran Jack's dad), Geoff Gerard, Steve Rogers, Olsen Filipaina's Thighs (that's a big bronze statue), Peter Kelly, Kevin Hardwick's Albino Long Permed Hairstyle, Ray Price, Mick Cronin, Chicka Ferguson, Ricky Walford, Steve Folkes, Bob Lindner, Les Davidson, Wayne Pearce, Tony Melrose, John Cartwright, Gene Miles, Chris Close, these are just randomly off the top of my head (well most of them anyway).
The above players are a dazzling array of different builds and skills but share a dominance they all bought to the game and their positions. They were consistently good, week to week, not just in rep games. This enormous number (36 players) is from the 80's alone!
How will the NRL Hall of Fame Work?
Similar to the NFL Hall of Fame but I would hope far less stringent (in the NFL, there are players who are not in the Hall of Fame who made All-Decade Teams - how can you dominate your position for a decade and not be in the Hall of Fame?).
Establish a Committee: - a committee of people would need to be established - with some kind of mix of quality journalists (don't equate that with high profile), league historians, ex-players and coaches of the past such as Warren Ryan, guys like Ray Warren, Peter Sterling, David Morrow, Ian Heads, Allan Whittacker, Ian Collis, David Middleton, Phil Gould and other parties such as members of the public (okay it's a shameless plug) - I put my hands up for an invitation! Or Nick Tedeschi of "From the Couch Fame". This committee would discuss and decide on the merits of nominated inductees. The committee could number 50-100 - as debate could occur and be decided via all sorts of presentation mediums.
Establish Eligibility Rules: - players should be retired for 5 years minimum.
Establish a Senior Component: - there needs to be a senior's component (maybe 3 players each year) using pre 1970 and post 1970 as the benchmarks. That way you can deal with older players who should be in the Hall of Fame, every year.
Introduce a Contributor Induction: - Have one contributor induction every year or every alternate year depending on the numbers - this would include coaches and administrators and people such as Peter Moore, Ken Arthurson, Kevin Ryan, Warren Ryan, Jack Gibson, Bob Fulton, Roy Masters, Ron Willey, Ted Glossop etc.
Fix up the Backlog: - The NRL would have to do something about the backlog - as there are an enormous amount of players that would need to be inducted initially. It may be possible to have a large number of inductees at the beginning, and then slowly tapering the numbers off over time. The key is to not take away the individual moments from those players who are to be inducted.
Pick a Time to Hold the Event: - It should be done at one of the following 3 points in the season - either at the end of the season right before the semi-finals, during Grand Final week making it a regular feature of Grand Final Week or just before season kick-off as an event that begins the new season. Pick the time of day whether it be a night time event in prime time, or a whole day.
Televise and Hype the Event: - Televise the event!! (If the Brownlow Medal and Allan Border Medal can get televised, anything can!). An NRL Hall of Fame induction night or day (no WAG factor though - focus purely on the players), with the hype and prestige would be an enjoyable thing to watch. Interspersed with highlights of the great players, discussions of their careers and comments from opposition players etc., added to the history of the game all rolled into one and who wouldn't watch it?
Organise how the Induction Ceremony would work: - Have the players be inducted by someone they nominate and then have the players give a speech - create a small bronze sculpture for each player and utilise the new distribution mediums, to give these great gladiators of the past a new life.
Produce a Hall of Fame Film for Each Year: - Get someone to produce a Hall of Fame Film each season and have highlights and commentary about all the great players inducted each year and about their careers and achievements. This can be downloadable from the NRL website.
What would be the Selection Criteria?
Things like performance, talent, leadership, consistency, longevity, how long they were at their peak, how did the player perform week-to-week, their contribution to winning teams, semi-final performances and would be key criteria. State of Origin or Tests appearances should count, but should never be the measure of a player, and should not hold massive bias. Many players get picked due to being an incumbent despite poor form during the season, or at the whim of selectors or a coach, despite their on-field performance. How can you forget that guys like Hazem El Masri, Nathan Blacklock, Preston Campbell, Brent Sherwin, Matt Orford, Nathan Merritt, who have consistently excelled year on year, or been dominant playmakers for very successful teams yet played 1 origin game between them?
Further, the fact that Mitchell Pearce has played more Origin games than Steve Mortimer, Terry Lamb or Cliff Lyons, just about destroys any argument. State of Origin has also had its fair share of 457 guest worker visas, like Adrian Lam (from PNG) and Dale Shearer, who would all of a sudden pop up, play unbelievably well in Origin and then disappear again.
There were also many player who played great in Test Matches or Origin but were very poor for their clubs most of the time or very inconsistent. As a result, rep games should not be the sole determination of a players worth or career.
Of course it is going to be subjective - rugby league is a 13 a side game on the field and now a 17 man game every week. Different players have different roles, and that makes it difficult to measure their impact if they are not a stand out playmaker type. However, in every era, no matter how the game was/is played, there were champions that played their position better than others, that excelled consistently on the field, and raised their games in the semi-finals. So the debate would be fascinating - who was good, great, all-time legendary - this would be something that would involve the whole age spectrum of Rugby League Fans. It can only be a positive.
Quite simply in the 80's you always heard about the greats of the past, but for some reason, Rugby League at the top level, has forgotten a whole generation of greats (especially those players from the 80's and early 90's) and left behind its past. The introduction of an NRL Hall of Fame would at least breathe new life into the players that helped make the game what it is today. The Australian Rugby League Commission needs to implement the Hall of Fame.
Lastly a special thanks to Rleague.com and rugbyleagueproject.org for their historical player listings!
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