NRL may elect to induct five Immortals again
Former Rugby League Week editor Ian Heads could not guarantee the decision to induct five new Immortals was a one-off after the NRL's judging panel's surprise announcement on Wednesday night.
The response from the wider rugby league public over the decision to induct three pre-war players – Dally Messenger, Frank Burge and Dave Brown – along with post-war players Norm Provan and Mal Meninga, has been overwhelmingly positive.
With voting under the NRL's control for the first time since the magazine closed, the next Immortals inducted will be in 2022.
"It will revert back to a more formal stage probably," Heads, who was part of the judging panel, said.
"But it is a bit of a moving beast, you don't know. In four years' time it's going to be very interesting again. We're going to have to sit down and go through the whole process. You can't really pick what's going to happen."
With modern-day players Cameron Smith and Johnathan Thurston, who have been dubbed future Immortals by many experts, expected to retire over the next few seasons, Heads said there was no better time to include the pre-war pioneers before it was too late.
Smith and Thurston will be eligible for immortality status five years after their retirements with widespread pressure for immediate inclusion a key factor for the judging panel.
"It was always going to get harder and harder as the years went ahead," Heads said.
"It's just the changing nature of things. It wasn't going to change the fundamentals of things. People will disagree and there will be different opinions that this guy or that guy should have been there.
"There was always a thought that Dally would be there. He might be on his own in future years it was going to be harder and harder to get early day players in because of the strength and talent we have now. It developed and was a really interesting room to be in."
The judging panel met at the Sydney Cricket Ground on Tuesday prior to the announcement and included key rugby league figures Wally Lewis, Bob Fulton, Andrew Johns, Wayne Bennett, Phil Gould, Ray Warren, Steve Crawley and Norm Tasker.
"I think we were all a bit shocked ourselves during the meeting when it was almost an organic thing that happened," Heads said.
"There was a lot of harmony amongst the judges and in the end it came down to a unanimous decision we would go that way.
"The idea has been going around a while. Norm Tasker, who followed me in as editor of RLW, he mentioned he raised the subject at one stage of putting a fence around the pre-war players at some stage. And I thought there was a case for doing that.
"I think that was the motivation. There was some good support, Wayne Bennett and Phil Gould. It grew within the room that was the way to go.
"There were other great early day players who are not there. Having these three great players is a bit of nod to history."
Channel Nine commentator and league expert Phil Gould explained the historic process in Six Tackles with Gus podcast on Thursday.
Gould said conversations with former editors Heads and Tasker painted a picture that neither had seen the pre-war pioneers of the game ever play and felt they couldn't include them under the magazine's concept.
"That was certainly one of the motivations, to give it the ultimate credibility it had to reflect our full history," Gould said.
"The more we talked about it and considered what the Immortal prestige represents, it was only right we went back to the beginning of time and found those that were dominant in their respective eras.
"It came through that we recommended all three be in, then go through to choose two from seven. The pre-war [players] were standalone and sold themselves."
On a day of discussions that lasted five hours, Gould added it was a scramble behind the scenes to rearrange the broadcast's order of ceremonies and keep the announcement of an additional three Immortals confidential.
"It was wonderful, we were confident it would get that sort of reaction," Gould said.
"We were very appreciative of the NRL probably changing what they had planned at the last moment because they were only anticipating the Hall of Fame inductees and the two Immortals to come from the 10 that had been nominated.
"The discussions on the Tuesday afternoon with wonderful rugby league people in a great atmosphere and spirit came to the conclusion."