Rugby league icon Phil Gould has named two greats who he says should be inducted as the next Immortals, adding a third option who should also be considered before modern day champions.
The Immortals concept was introduced by the now-defunct Rugby League Week magazine in 1981 when Clive Churchill, John Raper, Reg Gasnier, and Bob Fulton were crowned the original four.
While they remained the only players on the list for 18 years, they’ve since been joined by Wally Lewis, Arthur Beetson, Graeme Langlands, Andrew Johns, Dally Messenger, Frank Burge, Dave Brown, Norm Provan, and Mal Meninga.
The five most recent of those were inducted in 2018, after the NRL took charge of the concept following the demise of the magazine.
While the governing body has not flagged when the next round of inductions will take place, the discussion of potential candidates has resurfaced in recent weeks.
Many punters adopt a recency bias, singing the praises of superstars from the past two decades such as Johnathan Thurston, Darren Lockyer, Billy Slater, and Greg Inglis.
Slater’s fellow Melbourne champions Cooper Cronk and Cameron Smith aren’t yet eligible, given inductees must be retired for five years before consideration.
But Gould wants judges to look much further back into the past to find the next Immortals.
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“I still think we get a bit carried away with the recently retired players, I think you should have to wait a little bit longer,” he told Wide World of Sports’ Six Tackles with Gus podcast.
“The likes of Lockyer and Smith and Thurston and Cronk will have their day eventually. I don’t think now is the time.
“I think it needs to go in eras, and they should have to wait a little bit longer.
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“I know today’s people only have a short memory, but the game needs to have a long memory, the game needs to recognise people.”
Gould’s radical idea is for the NRL to consider future inductees in groups of eras, starting with the famous Parramatta team of the 1980s.
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He wants champion Eels halfback Peter Sterling to be the next inductee, and possibly his legendary teammate Brett Kenny.
Aside from them, Rabbitohs and Roosters icon Ron Coote is on Gould’s list.
“Certainly Sterling and Coote are the two that look natural to me that should be recognised in that ilk,” he said.
“And Kenny, it’s hard to mention Sterling without Kenny. If I were a judge that’s where I would be looking.
“I’d be looking more back in that era.
“Then you get to your Brad Fittler, Laurie Daley, Allan Langer type era, then you get to your Lockyer era, then of course your big players from Queensland, the Storm.”
Gould agrees former Storm and Queensland hooker Smith may well be the best player to ever grace rugby league, but he doesn’t want him rushed into the Immortals.
“He’s going to be an Immortal. I think there are others that need to be recognised in chronological order,” Gould said.
“Cameron Smith may well be the greatest player of all time, I’ve got no argument with that whatsoever. It doesn’t mean it has to happen today. It will happen in time.
“He might appreciate that in 10 or 15 years’ time – the game remembers him and reveres everything he did.
“I think Peter Sterling and Ron Coote would get a great thrill out of being recognised at this stage of their life.”
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