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In a league of their own

Just 5 rounds until the finals!

In a league of their own

The NRL has received some rare and unanimous praise for selecting five new members for the exclusive Immortals club.

Finally, the game has recognised some of the game’s pioneers including Dally Messenger who changed codes from rugby union in 1908 to help put our great game on the map.

The game has now got the chronological issues addressed – and the inclusion of two of the more modern-day champions such as Norm Provan (10 Premierships) and Mal Meninga (3 premierships and four Kangaroo tours) has been met with universal approval by the fans.

Of course, four of the five inductees played well before my time – but I can give some insight into Mal who I watched growing up in Brisbane – when he played for the Brisbane police team against my brother Russell’s team Wests-Mitchelton (which also featured Paul Vautin).

He was an athletic, powerful young centre back then and developed into one of the most skilful all round centres our game has produced.

I also watched him play as a 21-year-old in the historic, first State of Origin game at Lang Park in a team that was captained by his child hood hero Arthur Beetson which was a memorable and historic victory.

A few years later I got to play against him for the first time in England when I was a 19-year-old playing for Halifax and he was around 24 (at the peak of his powers) playing for the high-profile St Helens rugby league club.

I can recall how strong he was carrying the football – when we had more than eight of our players trying to tackle him – without success - as he offloaded the ball to his supports for a certain try.

Thankfully I got to play alongside him in one of the great QLD teams of the late 80s which was captained by Wally Lewis and coached by Arthur Beetson.

But I will always remember that Mal was a fantastic team man who made me feel comfortable in my role and helped me understand what representing QLD was all about.

He went on to become a great player and a great leader of men (including captaining QLD, the Raiders and the Kangaroos) and has been successful at all levels of the game.

Our paths crossed again more than 20 years ago – when I joined the coaching staff at the Raiders when he was a rookie first grade coach.

It is no surprise to me (and those people that are close to him) to see him become one of the game’s great representative rugby league coaches because he is so passionate about the game he loves and he has had a tremendous influence on the way young men have played at the highest level.

He has dramatically increased the profile of the Kangaroos over the last two years and restored them to being the No 1 team in the world after a successful World Cup campaign.

Becoming an Immortal is a fitting recognition for a man who was has carried himself with tremendous humility and who is so well respected by his peers.

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The last five weeks of the competition is when the form guide becomes critical to your team’s chances of the winning the title.

Two of the early front runners – the Dragons and the Panthers – have slipped to fourth and fifth respectively after the demands of the State of Origin series.

Meanwhile, the Storm have been unbeaten for eight weeks and the Roosters have been installed as Premiership favourites after their comprehensive win over the Dragons last week.

This week may give a great indication of South’s genuine title hopes when they meet the Storm at full strength – but they will have to do it without their ‘spiritual leader’ Greg Inglis who should return from injury in a couple of weeks.

At the other end of the scale – some of the bottom four teams are up against it – as they try to avoid the wooden spoon including the Eels who are taking on the Titans.

The Warriors seem to be only team likely to miss the top eight after their unexpected loss to the Titans where they played like a team “where the lights were on and nobody was at home” and this week they take on the Dragons.

Tipping the winner of the Premiership and the Wooden Spoon is still anyone’s guess.

My tips:

Broncos, Knights, Storm, Dragons, Eels, Roosters, Sharks, Panthers.

 

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