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21st January 2018, 15:50 | homefeature

WE GOT ISSUES: Who would British rugby league’s ‘Immortals’ be?

WE GOT ISSUES: Who would British rugby league’s ‘Immortals’ be?


The death overnight of Graeme Langlands means half of Australian rugby league’s ‘Immortals’ are no longer with us.

South Sydney legend Clive Churchill was only around for a few years after honour was bestowed upon him, before leaving us in 1985. Arthur Beetson passed away in 2011, Reg Gasnier departed in 2014.

Johnny Raper, Bob Fulton, Wally Lewis and Andrew Johns still walk among us and hopefully will for many years to come.

For those unsure of who ‘The Immortals’ are, it was basically a magazine promotion for Rugby League Week in 1981. The first four were inducted and the colour wrap-around promoted a limited edition port wine.

The criteria was simple: the greatest Australian players of the post-war era. Judging panels have varied in size. They picked post-war because in 1981 there was no living memory of the likes of Dally Messenger and Chimpy Busch.

Before I continue, I’d like to stress that discussing this issue is in no way intended to trivialise or lessen the loss that Graeme ‘Changa’ Langlands' family and friends are feeling today. The Immortals concept is but a small, comparatively insignificant, side issue to a life lived and, at age 76, left.

Following the demise of Rugby League Week itself, the Immortals concept is now owned by the NRL, who can do whatever they wish with it.

But I read a ridiculous piece recently suggesting that Jason Taumalolo would become the first non-Australian inducted. Did the author not understand that if that were to happen, Sonny Bill Williams, Mark Graham and Stacey Jones would all have to be considered as well?

And for that matter, so would Mal Reilly, Adrian Morley and Tommy Bishop?

One of the big problems here is that in 1981, the then-Sydney Premiership was made up almost entirely of Australians.

There was an international transfer ban in place involving Britain and Australia and if New Zealanders crossed the Tasman, they were precluded from representing the Kiwis in most cases.

We now have an NRL and a Super League drawing players from, if not exactly four corners of the globe, then many more places.

The continued close connection between the NRL and the Australia team is problematic; I’ve long argued for a separation similar to that of the Premier League and England, or the NBA and USA Basketball.

To be fair and equitable, the NRL should have a separate Immortals programme for New Zealanders since that country – and a team by that name – is now part of its competition.

Or else, if it opened up the current Immortals to players who have represented other countries, the revision would require the number of inductees to perhaps double in one hit.

And if British players were to be then left out while Aussies and Kiwis are recognised, would it not be prudent for Red Hall to set up its own equivalent … hypothetically?

Great Britain and Wigan Warriors legend Martin Offiah.

Roger Millward OBE was one of Hull KR's greatest ever players.

We already have the Hall Of Fame, by the way. It’s a wonderful institution and this is an intentional red herring, intended merely to inspire some debate and banter and a bit more thought about our sport's history and its wonderful players.

So, who would be British Rugby League’s Immortals? That is, the best of the best of the post-World War II Era. Give us your nominations on Twitter with the hashtag #BritImmortals. No more than eight – but if you think fewer have earned the right, then by all means make it less.

Here’s some suggestions from me, based largely on reputation as I never saw most of them play. Note that as foreign nationals, Brian Bevan and Tom Van Vollenhoven would be excluded.

So my eight would be: Billy Boston, Alex Murphy, Roger Millward, Mal Reilly, Garry Schofield, Martin Offiah, Vince Karalius and Ellery Hanley.

Give us yours on Twitter!