Modern players to dominate next Immortals vote
Up to eight new names are set to join Darren Lockyer and Brian Bevan on the next Immortals short list in 2022 following revelations that Norm Provan and Mal Meninga would have been ineligible to be considered again if they hadn’t been chosen for induction on Wednesday night.
With the NRL taking over the prestigious award from Rugby League Week, it was initially decided that the new three-strikes policy for players to be considered, should not be retrospective. But the 10 judges who selected Provan and Meninga did so with the understanding that it was their last chance for inclusion.
A review of the selection policies for the Hall of Fame and Immortals is expected to formally declare any player considered three times is no longer eligible, including those who the former RLW editors and previous judging panels in 1981, 1999, 2003 and 2012 had discussed.
As a result, Ron Coote, Ken Irvine and Duncan Hall are no longer likely to be in contention for Immortal status, while Provan and Meninga would not have been eligible again had they missed out this time.
Provan had previously been considered four times, while Meninga had been shortlisted before in 2003 and 2012.
It was also the view of the judges that the pre-World War II era be ruled off after the decision to induct Dave Brown, Frank Burge and Dally Messenger as Immortals, along with Provan and Meninga.
Therefore, the pool of players currently eligible for Immortal status has been reduced to 55 as the criteria requires them to have been retired for five years and be inducted as members of the Hall of Fame before they can be shortlisted.
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Lockyer and Bevan were both under consideration for the first time so they will each have two more chances to become Immortals in 2022 and 2026, by which time Cameron Smith, Johnathan Thurston and Billy Slater are expected to be in contention.
The decision means the likes of Peter Sterling, Allan Langer, Glenn Lazarus and Brad Fittler are likely to be considered for the shortlist in 2022, which may be reduced to six or seven names.
It was the selection of Bevan on the short list by a screening committee which caused the re-think about making the three-strikes policy retrospective, as the winger was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2008 but would be ineligible under the new NRL criteria because he played the majority of his career in England.
Harry Bath, who was a member of the initial selection committee in 1981, which chose Clive Churchill, John Raper, Reg Gasnier and Bob Fulton as the first four Immortals, would also not qualify for the Hall of Fame under the new eligibility rules.
"If we were to adopt the criteria that allowed for Brian Bevan and Harry Bath to be qualified in 2007, given that they played the majority of their careers in England, then we would adopt also those processes of the past as well to ensure there was consistency," NRL international strategy and awards senior manager Frank Puletua said.
"Therefore, Mal and Norm and those guys who were already discussed and deliberated over in previous votes, they would count as previous strikes, so this would mean that this would be the final one for them.
"There has been a really strong view, especially from those who were on those selection panels in the past, that they had assessed those players on their merits and at the time they found there were other players who had stronger cases to be inducted as an Immortal.
"It really was just whether the game would acknowledge those votes had taken place and whether we would take them into account. But if we were to maintain a level of consistency with what was inherited from previous processes and what wouldn’t be then we would have to do so."
Puletua, who has spent two years revamping the NRL awards structure, including the implementation of clear eligibility rules which enables all players – and not only Australians - to aspire to Immortal status, was involved in the decision to induct five players on Wednesday night.
The idea to grant Immortal status to the three pre-war players - Brown Burge and Messenger – came from Phil Gould, who believed it was impossible to compare Brown to Meninga or Messenger to Lockyer as they had played 100 years apart.
He won support from the other nine judges, who comprised of fellow coaching great Wayne Bennett, Immortals Bob Fulton, Wally Lewis and Andrew Johns, former RLW editors Ian Heads and Norm Tasker, Nine commentator Ray Warren, Fox Sports head of sport Steve Crawley and NRL CEO Todd Greenberg.
"Everyone began to talk about the pre-war challenges and difficulties about trying to juxtapose those players up against the modern players," Puletua said.
"It was Phil Gould and Rabs [Warren] who raised the really important point of how those players from pre-war and war-time would be more and more disadvantaged as the years go on.
"The discussion started to move from there then what happened, which is something that will stick in my mind forever, is that Wayne consolidated everyone's views and literally turned to Todd to say the group now feels strongly to put forward a recommendation.
"What they were seeking was endorsement from the game and a number of people from the NRL [including Puletua, Brian Canavan and Jason King] left the room for a lengthy time to weigh up whether there were any other implications from doing so.
"My view was that there was so much value in it and coming from a group as pre-eminent as the one who met on Tuesday, who would question it," Puletua said.