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Queenslanders will rebel if Johns becomes Immortal

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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.

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

Andrew Johns with the NRL premiership trophy in 2001.

Andrew Johns with the NRL premiership trophy in 2001. Photo: Getty Images

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.

Mal Meninga on the attack for Canberra.

Mal Meninga on the attack for Canberra. Photo: Fairfax

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.

Norm Provan and Western Suburbs captain Arthur Summons after famous 1963 grand final in the photograph which became the model for the NRL premiership trophy.

Norm Provan and Western Suburbs captain Arthur Summons after famous 1963 grand final in the photograph which became the model for the NRL premiership trophy. Photo: John O'Gready

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.

149 comments

  • What a crock! Its a Sydney based paper - of course Johns will get the most votes. Doesn't mean he deserves it. Doesn't deserve to get a grandstand named after him, more than Ray Baartz or Craig Johnston.

    Commenter
    Football - the round one
    Date and time
    September 26, 2012, 2:13PM
    • Wake up and smell the roses, Johns was by far the most talented player of them all, you just had to watch him in action. By the way, I am a QLD supporter but I do recognise a talented player when I see one...

      Commenter
      Realist
      Location
      au
      Date and time
      September 26, 2012, 2:58PM
    • Craig Johnson?!?!? Bwwwahahahahahahaha!!!

      Commenter
      Lazy Jesus
      Date and time
      September 26, 2012, 3:02PM
    • NORM PROVEN - The ONLY person to be considered. How the other two bopes can even be mentioned in the same sentence as Proven is an INSULT. Not only to a great player, a great human, but, and insult to the game of Rugby League

      Commenter
      TommyP
      Date and time
      September 26, 2012, 5:26PM
    • I don't know why there is a limit of one? To choose one will be interpreted as denigration of the others, which it shouldn't be. Many other sports have a Hall of Fame concept where the membership numbers are adequate to see all candidates of this calibre included.

      If it had to be one though, I would suggest Johns. I remember reading in the SMH about 5 years ago about the Sharks South African Super 15 team (probably Super 12 or 14 then) having Johns pointed out to them in their Sydney hotel breakfast room when they happened to be staying at the same hotel as the NSW Origin side. (This was after Johns had retired.) The Sharks were aware of Johns and his skills, and invited him to take the team through some drills on kicking and angle running, which he did with the team later that morning.

      I think if your skill set is at a level where players from another code in another country are keen to see you in action, it speaks volumes about your ability.

      Commenter
      Balanced
      Date and time
      September 26, 2012, 6:52PM
    • Meninga captained the greatest CLUB side to ever grace a rugby league field. Check out the 1994 grand final lineup:

      1. Brett Mullins
      2. Ken Nagas
      3. Mal Meninga
      4. Ruben Wiki
      5. Noa Nadruku
      6. Laurie Daley
      7. Ricky Stuart
      8. Quentin Pongia
      9. Steve Walters
      10. Paul Obsorne
      11. Jason Croker
      12. David Furner
      13. Bradley Clyde
      Coach Tim Sheens

      Oh and by the way, Joey's final minute 1997 set up try to win the game was done AND scored by Mal in 1990. Your move, Knights.

      Commenter
      tryme
      Location
      Sydderney
      Date and time
      September 26, 2012, 10:34PM
    • Without a doubt I would be placing Provan and/or Meninga ahead of Johns. But then I'd also be looking at Peter Sterling as an option ahead of Johns as well. As far as the greatests Club sides though, I'd always be happy to put the Eels of '81, '82 or '83 up against any team. Listing for the '82 side here:

      1. Paul Taylor
      2. Neil Hunt
      3. Mick Cronin
      4. Steve Ella
      5. Eric Grothe
      6. Brett Kenny
      7. Peter Serling
      8. Geoff Bugden
      9. Steve Edge (c)
      10. Chris Phelan
      11. John Muggleton
      12. Steve Sharp
      13. Ray Price
      Res: Peter Wynn and Mark Laurie
      Coach: The Great Jack Gibson

      Commenter
      SmallBeing
      Date and time
      September 27, 2012, 11:01AM
    • I am as Queensland as they come but you couldn't complain if "joey" got it. In my mind there have only been 2 players in Origin history who actually "controlled" the speed of the game. Lewis and Johns.

      Commenter
      mh
      Location
      Brisbane
      Date and time
      September 27, 2012, 11:38AM
  • Here we go... again. From the time Joey made his debut at half for NSW, he either was overlooked altogether or was overlooked for the likes of Toovey, Kimmorley and John Simon on more occasions than he was selected at half himself. How this makes him the halfback of the century, let alone an immortal, is beyond me. He had some spectacular, untouchable 3 or 4 seasons, but over his career... hardly.

    Commenter
    Tex Redmund
    Location
    Canberra
    Date and time
    September 26, 2012, 2:24PM
    • That's what I always thought. I didn't watch league for a big chunk of his career, but i certainly never got the impression he had the same impact as Meninga. Certainly not over as long a period. Johns was a fantastic footballer, no question. But an Immortal over Big Mal? It pains me to say it, but this New South Welshman thinks not. (Not that my opinion counts for anything ha ha).

      Commenter
      karlmarx
      Date and time
      September 26, 2012, 3:49PM

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