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Queenslanders will rebel if Johns becomes Immortal

The rumblings from the Deep North began early in the week when some of Queensland's Former Origin Greats (FOGs) became convinced former NSW halfback Andrew "Joey" Johns was to become rugby league's eighth Immortal.

Maybe they followed the betting line which had the Maroons' former captain and current coach, Mal Meninga, as third favourite behind Johns and St George great, Norm Provan.

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The judges, of whom I am one, haven't been told who has won the award.

The announcement will be made on Thursday night at a black tie dinner hosted by the Men of League organisation, a past players' body which cares for disadvantaged members and their families.

Magazine Rugby League Week owns the Immortals brand, having inaugurated four in 1981 — South Sydney's Clive Churchill, St George's John Raper and Reg Gasnier and Manly's Bob Fulton.

Eighteen years later, another two were added — St George's Graeme Langlands and Queensland's Wally Lewis. And in 2003 another former Maroon captain, Arthur Beetson, became the seventh Immortal.


So, it's only two Queenslanders out of seven and if "Joey" Johns is anointed tonight, the Maroons are running at 25 per cent.

That's a lower quota than the 50 per cent of the ARL Commission who either live in Queensland, or proudly wear their maroon scarves to Origin matches.

There is every indication Brisbane-based ARLC chairman, John Grant, will strike a deal with Rugby League Week to bring the Immortals brand inhouse and induct more players, and closer to their retirement.

Apart from the commercial opportunities of exploiting recently retired heroes recognisable to babies in swaddling clothes, there has to be some order about the code's most prestigious award, considering there was an 18-year gap before an induction of two, a four-year break to the naming of one and now a nine-year leap to another single honouree.

Of the 18 judges for the eighth Immortal, only a few are residents of Queensland — a point not missed by the FOGs.

"We might look at passports for NSW people entering Queensland," one joked this week in a rebellion against Meninga's potential omission.

"Have you had a look at the number of Tests Johns has played (26), compared to Mal (46)?

"It's nearly double."

Yet Test matches weren't the concern of St George's trio of Immortals, who, like all living Immortals, were given a vote.

They supported their captain/coach, Provan, who represented Australia 18 times.

Johns' critics focused on his off-field behaviour and his admission he had taken illicit drugs while playing.

It was pointed out these were "party drugs", such as ecstasy, taken post game, rather the pre-game performance enhancers. But this is irrelevant.

The very definitive view of the original judges was that the award must be confined to a player's on-field skills and in this regard Johns, in my opinion, has no equal.

Apart from the fact he tackled like Raper, converted sideline tries like Churchill, threw cut-outs like Lewis, teased defences like Fulton, and kicked short and long, he rarely chose the wrong option on the field.

Judges were also told to disregard coaching achievements, disadvantaging Provan and Meninga.

I suspect Grant, who was one of the 18 judges, will insist the award embraces off-field behaviour and continuing commitment to the code.

For example, the charity work done by the fourth favourite for tonight's award — Men of League chairman Ron Coote — could not be considered.

Coote, the former Rabbitohs/Roosters back rower, is a member of Australia's Team of the Century, as are all the Immortals, together with Johns, Meninga and Provan.

Sadly, I suspect Provan's opportunity passed when his fellow St George teammate, Harry Bath, sat down in 1981 with commentator Frank Hyde and Sydney Morning Herald journalist Tom Goodman and chose the inaugural four.

Sure, Langlands and Beetson were added approximately 20 years after they retired. That is about the same time for which Meninga has been retired.

But the judges were told to select one Immortal and the prevailing mood appears to be to reward recently retired players, clearing the way for the Darren Lockyers, Billy Slaters and Cameron Smiths.

Should that talented Maroons trio become the 9th, 10th and 11th Immortals, it may partly placate the Queenslanders.

But not on Thursday night. Former Maroons tend to hit the rum when angry, becoming red-eyed and revolutionary.

Australia's first Rum Rebellion in 1808 led to the overthrow of the NSW Government and, should "Joey" be anointed on Thursday, another rum-fuelled revolution could see the end of Sydney's control of rugby league's most prestigious prize.


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