Australia rugby league coach Mal Meninga was named as one of rugby league’s Immortals in Sydney on Wednesday night, along with four other past greats in a surprise announcement.
Meninga, a giant of the game who starred as an imposing centre for Canberra, Queensland and Australia in the 1980s and ’90s, credited Wayne Bennett for believing him as an 18-year-old and setting lofty goals.
It was here, while training at a police academy, where the young Queenslander decided he wanted to represent his state and country in the sport.
“I wanted to be a policeman, a copper. I wanted to arrest people,” Meninga said.
“I vividly remember when Wayne told me I can be anything in life if I put my mind to it. I went back to my room at my academy and set a goal. I wanted to play for Queensland, I wanted to play for Australia. I wanted to play for Queensland as an 18-year-old kid, and people laughed at me. But it didn’t deter me.”
Meninga, who played 45 Tests for Australia and 32 Origin games for Queensland, also spoke about his heady days at the Canberra Raiders in the late ’80s and early ’90s.
— Canberra Raiders (@RaidersCanberra) August 1, 2018
“I’m been very lucky through my footy life, with the players I’ve played with and against,” he said.
“Those Canberra days were fantastic, playing with some special people. We had a common purpose, common goals, we wanted to do well.”
And Meninga, who was the only player to have been on four Kangaroo tours, joined former greats Norm Provan, Dally Messenger, Dave Brown and Frank Burge to be named as an Immortal, with the NRL changing the criteria to consider players from 1908 onwards.
— NRL (@NRL) August 1, 2018
The five join Clive Churchill, Bob Fulton, Reg Gasnier, Johnny Raper, Graeme Langlands, Wally Lewis, Arthur Beetson and Andrew Johns to receive the game’s highest honour.
Messenger was a pioneer of rugby league, touring with the first Kangaroos side and was known as ‘The Master’. He played 163 first class games, including Tests for Australia and New Zealand, and the NRL’s yearly award for the game’s best is named after him.
Brown, ‘the Bradman of rugby league’, was a dashing centre for Australia, NSW and Eastern Suburbs during the 1930s.
Burge was one of the game’s first great try-scoring forwards with 146 tries in 154 games, while Provan helped St George to 11 premierships from 1956 to 1966 and played in two World Cups.
— The Dragons (@NRL_Dragons) August 1, 2018
The Immortals concept was started by Rugby League Week magazine in 1981 but the judges only looked at post-World War II careers because they hadn’t seen them play.
NRL CEO Todd Greenberg said Burge, Messenger and Brown’s induction was an acknowledgement of the game’s past.
“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,” NRL CEO Todd 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.”
The other candidates nominated for Immortal status included Brian Bevan, Duncan Hall, Ken Irvine, Ron Coote and Darren Lockyer.
There were also six new inductees into the NRL Hall of Fame, with Ricky Stuart, Petero Civoniceva, Gorden Tallis, Steve Menzies and for the first time, Kiwi Mark Graham, joining the list of more than 100 players.