NRL Immortals, Hall of Fame guided by NFL, NBA secrets
One hundred and ten years of rugby league history will be complemented by unique insights from the NFL and NBA as the NRL's revamped Hall of Fame takes centre stage in 2018.
Painstaking research and fact-finding by NRL awards manager Frank Puletua over the past three years has taken him to the US and back, where he consulted with officials from the two biggest sporting competitions in the world in a bid to give rugby league's highest honours the "prestige and recognition they deserve".
Puletua spent three days at the famed Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, and sat down with executives from the NBA's Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in Massachusetts to ensure no stone was left unturned when it comes to the age-old Immortals debate.
For perspective, the NFL's institution is set for an $800 million overhaul into a 'Disneyland for football' in the next few years, while the Naismith is regarded as one of the most comprehensive halls of fame in any major sport given its coverage of professional, amateur and international basketball over the last 58 years.
Rugby league's recognition program is small fry in comparison. But with the possibility of two Immortals being named and six new Hall of Fame members to be inducted later this year, Puletua has canvased far and wide to put the game's history well and truly on the map.
"It's not an apples for apples comparison by any means, the NBA and NFL both have different models over there," Puletua told NRL.com.
"There's a lot of philanthropic support and the chamber of commerce is involved and invests in the basketball Hall of Fame.
"But there are still a lot parallels in the NFL as a sport, their playing group and demographics to rugby league.
"I went over there and spent three days with the (NFL's) Hall of Fame Committee.
"They talked me through where they'd started, what had come before them and the evolution of their rules and criteria in line with the development of their sport.
"There was a number of take-outs from the pro-football Hall of Fame and the Naismith exec team also provided some incredible insight.
"It's been three years and a very long process getting this off the ground but the fun part of the work, the debates and discussions now starts in earnest."
Each Hall of Fame for the NFL and NBA boasts more than 300 inductees, which are decided by panels of media representatives.
The rugby league counterpart will instead draw from historians, coaches and figures with serious skin in the game to ensure "the utmost credibility" remains in recognising its greatest among the almost 10,000 first-grade players in history.
Five-year waiting periods after a player has retired, regular induction periods and screening committees are just some of the measures adopted from the American games by the NRL.
Casting back to 1908 for the first time in the discussion, bringing the likes of Dally Messenger, Frank Burge and Dave Brown into contention alongside the modern greats, looms as the biggest challenge for Puletua's operation.
As a result, vision and highlights packages will be limited during the selection and voting process on the grounds that players from more recent eras gain an unfair advantage, while historical works and contemporary reports will build the cases of legends from pre-World War II.
"We're looking at the top of the tree," Puletua said of the rigorous selection process.
"We're really looking at the smallest percentage of that group. Identifying good from great, great from outstanding – which is the Immortals – you have to be clear about your metrics and parameters, you can't just pick and choose, the objectivity has to be there because there's no higher honour in our game."