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Why Norm Provan should be the next Immortal

He is half the NRL Telstra Premiership trophy. He should be the next Immortal.

Norm Provan might be more familiar to the broader church of rugby league fans as the taller guy in bronze, embracing the shorter Arthur Summons as they trudged off a sodden SCG pitch at the end of the 1963 grand final between St George and Wests.

But Provan's career achievements far excel his 193cm, 99kg frame, which itself was impressive on a football field.

With NRL chief executive Todd Greenberg announcing on Tuesday that a ninth Immortal would be named this year – the first since Andrew Johns in 2012 – the debate will be on about who should next shoulder this immense honour.

Remember the game started in 1908, so a name to herald that 110th anniversary should be a significant one.

It is hard to compare the careers of players over the generations, when so much in rugby league has changed.

But a few things haven't – including how hard it is to win a premiership, and how difficult it is to break into the Australian Kangaroos team, or a state rep team.

Norm Provan in action for St George.
Norm Provan in action for St George. ©NRL Photos

Provan did all that – it's just that he did it before the majority of present-day fans were born.

They will be more familiar with Australia's Test coach, Queensland's record-breaking Origin mentor, and the only player to be selected in four Kangaroos Tours, Mal Meninga.

Or they might think four-time premiership-winner Darren Lockyer, who is still the most capped Kangaroos player (59 Tests), and one who broke a host of other records as a sublime fullback and five-eighth, is a worthy candidate – and they'd be right.

You could add winger Ken Irvine - who still holds the record for most first-grade tries with 212, hooker Noel Kelly or second-rower Ron Coote as possible candidates – and you'd be right again. All three were in rugby league's Centenary Team named in 2008.

There's plenty of backing for current stars like Cameron Smith and Johnathan Thurston. But it is understood a player must be retired for at least five years before they are considered.

Regardless of the chatter, Provan was special.

He put his body through 15 first-grade seasons with St George (1951-65), playing in 10 winning grand finals – his last four as captain-coach. He played 18 Tests (1954-1960) and 27 games for NSW.

He then coached St George to a preliminary final in 1968, before a season with Parramatta (1975) and two years with Cronulla, which included the 1978 grand final loss to Manly Warringah.

However, if you're still not sure about Norm Provan then you need only look at the Provan-Summons trophy – the pinnacle for clubs in the Telstra Premiership.

Rugby league great Ron Coote.
Rugby league great Ron Coote. ©NRL Photos

The pose was first captured in a photograph by Fairfax's John O'Gready known as "The Gladiators".

O'Gready captured near-perfectly the exhaustion, courage, competitiveness and mateship of rugby league, especially on display in high-octane games like grand finals.

The 85-year-old Provan was born in the NSW Riverina region, retired to Queensland, and usually makes the trek to each Dally M Awards with Arthur Summons to present the medal struck in their names, one that is for the player voted by fans as their favourite. 

It is now time for Provan to receive his due recognition.

The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARLC, NRL clubs or state associations.

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St George Illawarra Dragons respect and honour the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders peoples, where our games are played, our programs are conducted and in the communities we support.

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