Johns is a genius - flawed, but deserving
Some critics are being too precious about Andrew Johns and his newly-awarded Immortals status.
They say he shouldn't have been given the honour because of his off-field indiscretions, which involved illegal drug-taking and racial villification.
We are all saints when it suits us, but the truth is that unless you are genuinely divine, we've all done things that, in hindsight, we wish we hadn't done, and that we're not proud of. Johns apologised over and over again because he realised his actions had hurt the game, and that is where those matters should be left.
Andrew Johns at Thursday night's announcement. Photo: Quentin Jones
Johns is like any genius, in that he is flawed. He has always had to battle his inner demons, and his football often clearly served as an escape from the dark days. But, as great a player as he was, the most impressive thing about him is the way he accepted an honour like the one that was bestowed upon him last night.
He was truly humbled, almost bewildered, by the acknowledgement, when the truth is that he was a natural to join the Immortals club at some stage. Johns was the same way when he was named in the team of the century in 2008, to celebrate the centenary of rugby league in Australia.
The Immortals concept began as an idea to promote a brand of port, and has grown into the greatest honour a rugby league player in this country can receive. But, because it was conceived with no idea that it would become that big, the concept has its own issues in terms of selection criteria and timing.
Johns pronounced Immortal
Immortal nominee: Norm Provan, arriving. Photo: Quentin Jones
I would have had no problem with Mal Meninga being given this latest honour, and Johns being made to wait a bit longer for the inevitable induction. But, as it turns out, the five greatest players I've seen in the flesh — Wally Lewis, Johns, Bob Fulton, Arthur Beetson and Graeme Langlands — are all Immortals.
That doesn't necessarily mean Meninga isn't worthy of the same honour, but now that the judges have gone for Johns it should mean a line is drawn in the sand and they don't go backwards again to reconsider Meninga or anyone else from the pre-Johns era. The worst thing you can do with a great honour is start awarding it all over the place, because that just dilutes it.
Lewis is the best player I've seen, but only narrowly ahead of Johns. Whether someone like Darren Lockyer deserves Immortals status is something to be decided further down the track, but, whatever they do, they shouldn't hand it out to him or anyone else just so they can say they have made someone else an Immortal. There are eight now, and that is plenty for the time being.
There was nothing better in rugby league than to see Johns punishing the opposition while playing for Newcastle, or for NSW in 2005, when he made a stunning comeback to State of Origin. He has added something to the Immortals concept by making it abundantly clear how much the award means to him. Well done to "Joey" — he thoroughly deserves it.