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The Sydney Morning Herald


Date: 27/05/1992
Words: 903
          Publication: Sydney Morning Herald
Section: Sport
Page: 48
Yesterday was an occasion much in praise of famous men. In a pleasant lunch-room overlooking Hyde Park, the talk was of Gasnier and Raper, Messenger and Lewis, and a hundred more.

Judge John Raper was there, minus his legal wig but maintaining his impeccable attendance record at social outings, and so too were Bobby Fulton, Noel Kelly, Keith Barnes, Ron Coote, Keith Holman and many others.

Sadly, a bout of flu kept away Rodney Churchill, proud son of the man who was officially acclaimed yesterday as the greatest Australian rugby league player of all time: Clive Churchill, the Little Master.

A fascinating quest by Rugby League Week magazine had its ending and its beginning yesterday in the announcement of the top 100 players of all time-in order.

As one of the six judges-along with Frank Hyde, Bob Bax, Frank Stanton, George Crawford and Ian Walsh-I can record that the task was an agonising and near-impossible one, albeit a captivating voyage through 85 years of football. I'm sure the other judges experienced, as I did, the 3 am jolt: "Bugger, I left * * * * * * * out." Each of us picked our top 100 independently, and then the computer considered, shuffled and spat out the results.

The published 100, supported by statistical research by David Middleton, provide a multitude of controversies and talking points. Right at the top, there will be argument over whether Churchill deserves his No 1 ranking over such men as Johnny Raper (2), Reg Gasnier (3), Dally Messenger (4), Graeme Langlands (5) and other luminaries. I reckon the judges collectively got it right when they picked the Souths' champion at the top.

To me, Churchill has always been the quintessential rugby league player, the shining example of the game's egalitarian nature, the star witness for the contention that league, unlike some sports, caters even-handedly for men of all shapes and sizes. "Tigger" crammed into a small package the qualities of courage, skill, loyalty, intelligence, leadership, longevity as a footballer, and never-say-die spirit.

Churchill was a dashing free spirit with the ball, the most fearless of tacklers, a goalkicker and general play-kicker. His qualities effectively added up to the manual of rugby league. He had everything except size. Others through the years have sparkled with more individual brilliance in certain areas, but was there ever a comparable footballing package?

The list of the chosen 100 is full of fascinating big bits and little bits. The top players voted in each position were: Fullback: Churchill (1), Wing: Harold Horder (12), Centre: Reg Gasnier (3), Five-eighth: Bob Fulton(6), Half-back: Duncan Thompson (10), Lock: Johnny Raper (2), Second-rower: Frank Burge (17), Prop: Arthur Beetson (16), Hooker: Ian Walsh (24).

Younger fans will pore over the list to see how the champions of the 1990s fared. They did well, with Wally Lewis (7) and the recently retired Peter Sterling (11) heading a line-up of seven other current players: Mal Meninga, Brett Kenny, Bradley Clyde, Laurie Daley, Michael O'Connor, Allan Langer and Bob Lindner.

Each judge will have personal reservations. My own main one centres on the old-time halfback Chris McKivat. McKivat came in at No 42 behind four other halves, Duncan Thompson, Sterlo, Keith Holman and Joe Busch. The more I learned of McKivat and his time, the more I am inclined to think he was as important to the early game as The Master, Dally Messenger.

McKivat's decision to switch to league from union in 1909 (for Pound 200)was the catalyst to the mass changeover by the Wallabies of that year-the event that secured rugby league's future in very shaky times. But more than that, McKivat was a halfback of supreme and commanding skills, captain of the record-smashing 1911 Kangaroos (a tour on which he played 30 games in succession), one of the greatest leaders the game has seen, and later the coach of North Sydney when Norths won the competition for the only time(1921-22). He was special, though under-appreciated these days, understandably.

As much as those picked, those missed out will fuel the debate. That impressive second list would include such players as Gary Belcher (he finished 101), Dan Dempsey, Eric Harris, Mike Cleary, Andy Norval, Max Krilich, Dan Frawley, Elwyn Walters, Ben Elias and Steve Roach-and a collection of other champions or near-champions.

You may even have a name in mind yourself.

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