Meninga announced as Immortal
Norm Provan and Mal Meninga have joined Dally Messenger, Frank Burge and Dave Brown as the next five rugby league Immortals in a surprise announcement at the Sydney Cricket Ground on Wednesday evening.
Originally set to be a maximum of two players on the 10-man nominees list welcomed into rugby league's most exclusive club, pre-war pioneers Messenger, Burge and Brown were the first three men named in front of a prestigious crowd of dignitaries. Then later in the festivities Provan and Meninga were announced as the 12th and 13th Immortals respectively.
Messenger, Brown, Burge - pioneers of the premiership's early days in Australia - Provan and Meninga were granted Immortal status by a panel that consisted of current Immortals Wally Lewis, Bob Fulton and Andrew Johns, along with Broncos coach Wayne Bennett, Phil Gould, Ray Warren, Steve Crawley and former Rugby League Week editors Ian Heads and Norm Tasker.
The 9th, 10th and 11th Immortals are deceased. Provan is in ill health but his daughter Sue McLeod accepted the honour on his behalf. Meninga was present at the SCG and spoke of his love of the game and his family, before paying tribute to all the nominees.
"There are extremely worthy individuals, and men, that's been involved in our game," Meninga told guests.
"I'm fully aware and understand that I'm very privileged and honoured to be here. And I fully understand that any one of you could be here in my place."
NRL CEO Todd Greenberg explained the reasoning behind announcing five, and not the expected two, Immortals.
"The judges took the view that this was a one-off opportunity to recognise the past, to recognise three players from the pre-war era who became legends of the game," Greenberg said.
"If the panel did not take this step we could have lost our chance to include these champion players among our Immortals.
"It was an opportunity the game could not afford to miss and the Immortals now reflect the full history of rugby league – from 1908 to the present."
It marks an historic inclusion for Graham, who becomes the first New Zealander to join the elite group.
Dally Messenger was part of the first touring Kangaroos side and was so highly rated that New Zealand invited him as a guest on their first tour as well.
He not only played for both countries, but also for Queensland and NSW, such was the talent of his goalkicking as well as his sidestep and swerving runs.
Universally known as "The Master", Messenger could do it all. His attack was breathtaking and he was a peerless goalkicker.
The domestic game's major awards are named in his honour - a tribute to how his legacy has endured.
Dave Brown won two premierships with Easts and in 1935 he scored 38 tries that year, including one match when he rattled up 45 individual points. Records that stand to this day.
He also played 21 games for NSW and was known as "the Bradman of rugby league".
Brown became Australia's youngest Test captain at 22 years, in 1935, and that was despite all sorts of physical mishaps – including losing the top of his left thumb as a toddler.
He was a prolific scorer and smashed the Kangaroos Tour record with 285 points.
Frank Burge was probably the fittest player of his time. Talk has it that he ran from Broadway to Bondi on Sunday mornings as part of his fitness routine.
If a centre was on the burst and looking around for support it was most likely Burge looming on his inside, or outside.
He was one of the game's first great try scoring forwards. Steve Menzies might have scored more but Burge's strike rate was almost a try a game: 146 tries in 154 first grade matches.
He has the most tries in a premiership game – eight for Glebe v University in 1920.
He also coached six clubs but never won a grand final as either a player or coach.
Norm Provan was the backbone of St George's historic run of 11 consecutive premierships between 1956-66, since Provan played in 10 of them – the last five as captain/coach.
He played for NSW 25 times and Australia 14.
He is half of the current Telstra Premiership trophy – the taller half since he stands at an imposing 194cm.
Mal Meninga's premiership rings straddled two states – he has two with Souths in the Brisbane competition and three with the Canberra Raiders.
Size and strength have always been Meninga's trademarks – and then there's a list of achievements and point scoring records off the back of that to confirm that power.
He kicked goals and broke through defensive lines without a hitch.
The former Maroons coach played 45 games for Australia and on 42 occasions for Queensland. He is the only player to be a part of four Kangaroos Tours – the last two as captain.