Almanac Rugby League: Who should be added to rugby league’s Immortals? A long-time Parramatta fan states his case.




Two legendary  players from one Sydney club, one a five-eighth and the other a legendary halfback, have been somewhat forgotten amid discussions about so-called “great” rugby league players. Jason Charles is a mad-keen Parramatta fan who works at What’s Your Team, a sports store on Redcliffe Parade, Redcliffe in Dolphin heartland. Let’s take a look at why he thinks these two Eels greats should be considered for Immortal status.


When great rugby league five-eighths are mentioned, Wally Lewis is invariably the first name that often comes to mind. When great halfbacks are mentioned, Andrew ‘Joey’ Johns is invariably the first name that comes to mind. These two all-time greats have earned Rugby League Immortal status, while Johnathan Thurston (JT) is sure to become an Immortal after he excelled in both the five-eighth and halfback positions. Darren Lockyer, who excelled in the five-eighth role in the second half of his career, is also sure to come into contention for inclusion among the Immortals.


But what I’d like to know is, why aren’t Brett Kenny and Peter Sterling rated alongside the likes of Wally, Joey, JT and Lockyer in the top echelon of rugby league’s greatest ever players? In fact, I’d really like to know why Kenny and Sterling haven’t been named as Immortals alongside the likes of Johns, Lewis, Clive Churchill, Reg Gasnier, Bob Fulton, Norm Provan, Dally Messenger and Mal Meninga.


I’m a Queenslander through and through, having been born in Gladstone in 1978, but my heart and soul has always been with the mighty Parramatta Eels. As a youngster, I simply adored watching Sterling, Kenny, Steve Ella, Mick Cronin and Ray Price in action. It’s been well over 30 years since the Eels won a premiership but my love for the club has not diminished, while Kenny remains my favourite player ever.


I hope I don’t sound biased, but I honestly think Kenny and Sterling have done more than enough to earn Immortal status in rugby league, as their accomplishments rank favourably compared with all 13 players who have been named in this illustrious list.


I’ll start with Kenny, the man they called ‘Bert’. He played at five-eighth for the mighty Eels in five deciders from 1981 to 1986, for four victories. Moreover, he scored two tries in each of the Grand Finals from 1981 to 1983 (with wins of 20-11 over Newtown, 21-8 over Manly, and 18-6 over Manly). Kenny also had two tries disallowed in the tryless 1986 decider, won 4-2 against Canterbury. In 1985 (a year that Parramatta missed the Grand Final), Kenny scored another two tries in another club premiership decider. He appeared for Wigan, scoring a double in the Challenge Cup Final and becoming the first Australian to win the Lance Todd Trophy as man of the match. Kenny’s record of Grand Final tries is unprecedented while it is also rare for anyone to be in five premiership wins in the space of six years (apart from various Dragons players in St George’s phenomenal premiership run from 1956 to 1966). Overall, Kenny played 265 games for Parramatta over 14 seasons.


At State of Origin level, Kenny played 17 times for the Blues from 1982 to 1987, and was in NSW’s first two series victories (1985 and 1986). He scored the winning try in Game 2 of 1985 to seal the series, and his other Origin try was also a vital one as he touched down in the second half of Game 2 of 1986 to help set up back-to-back series wins. Kenny also played a chief role in numerous NSW tries throughout his Origin career. When NSW won all three Origin matches in 1986 (becoming the first state to clean-sweep an Origin series), the margins ranged from only two to six points. If there was anyone from either team who made a decisive difference, it was Kenny. Without Kenny’s footwork, swerve, acceleration and ability to set up tries, NSW could well have lost all three matches.


More telling is the fact that the Blues won 8 of 12 matches when Kenny opposed Lewis at five-eighth. Seriously, how can this be overlooked? In fact, the Maroons were delighted when Kenny was moved to the centres while Cliff Lyons was brought in at five-eighth for the third and deciding game of 1987. Lyons made a couple of vital errors in a tense 10-8 defeat, and I reckon NSW would have won three successive series if Kenny had rightfully remained in the pivot position for the third and deciding match of 1987. In that case, Kenny’s record against Lewis would have been 9 wins from 13 matches. Meanwhile, Lewis not only became an Immortal of the game, but was known as ‘The Emperor’ and the so-called ‘number 1 player in State of Origin’! What about Kenny, I wonder? Why doesn’t he receive equivalent recognition?


At Test level, Kenny scored 10 tries in 17 appearances and played in all of the Tests on two undefeated Kangaroo tours of England and France in 1982 and 1986. He began his Test career at five-eighth, but from 1984 onwards he played in the centres due to Wally Lewis being the first-choice five-eighth. What is most telling is that in the 1982 Ashes, Kenny and Sterling were the halves while Kenny kept Lewis out of the starting line-up. Lewis was Kangaroo vice-captain as well as a future Kangaroo captain and rugby league Immortal, I might add!  Four years later when Kenny was named in the midfield, he kept another future Immortal and Kangaroo captain out of his usual position, as Mal Meninga was forced to come off the bench twice before starting the next Test in the second-row.


As far as personal accolades are concerned, Kenny won the Golden Boot Award in 1986 for best rugby league player in the world, and was also named Dally M Representative Player of the Year for 1986.


I don’t know what else Kenny could have done, so why isn’t he among the Immortals of rugby league?


Sterling, meanwhile, also played in Parramatta’s four premierships, as he and Kenny formed a brilliant halves pairing. Having vied with Steve Mortimer for the NSW and Australian halfback spots, Sterling was in just one State of Origin series win (1986), although his 13-game Origin career featured 4 man-of-the-match awards, including the 1987 exhibition match in California. At Test level, Sterling scored four tries and kicked a field goal in 18 appearances. He was Kenny’s halves partner in all of the Tests on the unbeaten 1982 and 1986 Kangaroo tours.


Sterling’s list of awards and accolades really is second to none. He was named Dally M Player of the Year twice (1986 and 1987), Dally M Halfback of the Year 4 times (1983, 1984, 1986 and 1987), and Rugby League Week Player of the Year 3 times (1984, 1986 and 1987). Sterling won the inaugural Clive Churchill Medal for player of the NSWRL Grand Final in 1986, and then won the Golden Boot Award the following year. Sterling also won the Rothmans Medal in 1987, and achieved this award again in 1990. Overall, Sterling played 227 games for Parramatta over 15 seasons.


Whereas Kenny and Sterling won 4 premierships each for Parramatta, Wally Lewis never won a premiership in Sydney, while Johns won 2 premierships with Newcastle. Additionally, one of those premierships (1997) was when the ARL played in only half a competition (as did Super League). Thurston won 2 NRL premierships, albeit firstly when he was a bench player (with Canterbury in 2004), and secondly in 2015 when ‘golden point’ was required for North Queensland to edge out the Broncos.


There you have it. Why aren’t Kenny and Sterling rated among the cream of the crop, and why haven’t they been inducted as Rugby League Immortals?



Jason Charles from What’s Your Team
Photo (with permission): What’s Your Team Facebook


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  1. Ian Hauser says

    Jason, I enjoyed this. You put up a very good case for Brett Kenny when all of his achievements are put down in one place like this. He wouldn’t be out of place in this company. Stereo also has a great CV but there are other halfbacks with equal claims – Stuart, Langer, Mortimer. Tough call to make by those given the task.

  2. Liam Hauser says

    Jason, you’ve made a very compelling case as to why Kenny and Sterling should be inducted as Rugby League Immortals. I don’t know exactly what the criteria is, or how the judges can select certain players at the expense of others. Cameron Smith, Billy Slater and Johnathan Thurston will certainly be added to the list at some stage. In no particular order, I reckon Kenny, Sterling, Ron Coote, Allan Langer, Darren Lockyer, Cooper Cronk, Laurie Daley and Brad Fittler would be worthy inclusions. But I don’t think there’s enough room to fit them all, and I don’t know how anyone could devise a so-called “fair” way of deciding who should and who shouldn’t be included.

  3. Dr Rocket says

    Reckon the mine host of the Gerringong pub Mick “Crow” Cronin is in the same company as the other two Parra Greats?
    I hope the League doesn’t make the same mistakes as the AFL and put more recent players in.
    Close to becoming a farce in the AFL, not by who is in, but who isn’t. Just because they may have passed away

  4. I agree, Kenny and Sterling or at least one player from that dominant Parramatta era should be represented in the Immortal debate. I regard Kenny as the best footballer I have seen. The only thing that may count against Kenny is the he stepped down from rep duty following the serious knee injury he suffered in 1988 and the Eels never made the finals again in a combined comp from 1988 onwards.
    Even when Kenny slowed down towards the end of his career he was still a great player, the ball skills and deception were still there even though he had slowed down. One can only imagine if Kenny was around in this era of full time professionals how long Kenny would have been able to maintain his peak level of performances. With Sterling as great as he was , I also rate Steve Mortimer very highly. Although the Bulldogs team of the mid-80s had a formidable forward pack , without Steve Mortimer they do not win in 1984 or 1985. In the ’84 prelim final , I felt that the Eels played better than the Bulldogs but did not win the match. Steve Mortimer , the best covering defender I have seen bumped Grothe out into touch metres from the try line. If Grothe scores we win and get into the GF first. If that happened I believe we would have won the ’84 GF.

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