I still remember the day well. Steve "Slippery" Morris headed into the News Limited head office in Holt Street to receive the 1979 Dally M Medal as the Daily Mirror's player of the year.
I first met and interviewed Slippery the year before when he was a bolter selection as halfback in the Australian team that played New Zealand – chosen from the Dapto Canaries in the Illawarra competition after shining for Country Seconds with his blinding speed off the mark.
St George quickly snapped him up with Dapto teammate Brian Johnson and they went on to star in the Dragons' premiership success.
To win a grand final and become the Mirror's player of the year in his debut season in Sydney was a massive feat and fellow young Mirror journalist Tim Prentice and I were given the responsibility of meeting Morris, taking him around to News Limited Sydney boss Brian Hogben's office to accept the medal, get a photo taken and then take Slippery to lunch at the Evening Star hotel.
I still remember Slippery being a bit dirty that there was no cash prize to accompany the Dally M Medal as Parramatta's Mick Cronin had won the Mirror's award in '78 which included, I think, a $1000 booty. But it was under the name of the KB Gold Medal if my memory serves me right, sponsored by Tooths brewery.
The 1979 version was the launch of the Dally M – but, until now, had been written out of history.
As my career took me to Tasmania towards the end of the next season and through Rugby League Week, to England, club administration and Big League, I always wondered why Slippery's medal was ignored on the official lists as the Dally M took over from the Rothmans Medal, which became defunct after 1996, as league's most distinguished player award.
The voting system was the same – points allocated on a 3, 2, 1 basis by a panel that included either reporters from the Mirror (or later the Daily Telegraph after the afternoon tabloid The Mirror folded in 1990) or guest judges like columnists Clive Churchill, Bernie Purcell, Ken Irvine or Bob Fulton.
The only difference was that the following season, 1980, positional awards were added to the Dally M concept after Channel 10, which had taken over televised rights from Channel 7, approached the Mirror about staging a Rothmans Medal style presentation dinner to be broadcast live.
Robert "Rocky" Laurie won that year's major award and in all annals since that was recorded as the launch of the Dally Ms as we know them today.
Like me, Slippery also wondered why he had been banished into anonymity. I ran into him at a Dapto players reunion around 2003 and he asked me about that day he came into Holt Street and why the medal he still possessed that was never recognised.
I told Slippery I would look into it.
I was editor of Big League at the time and the Dally M Medal concept was run as an award by the Telegraph although the NRL was taking an increasing role in the awards night. Over the next few years the NRL took more control over what became the "official" awards of the game, just as The Immortals – a Rugby League Week promotion in 1981 – grew to what it is today.
I spoke to NRL boss David Gallop about it who told me the Dally M was still the responsibility of the Telegraph and I should speak to chief league writer and my former Mirror colleague Peter Frilingos. Peter explained how the Dally M expanded in 1980 to include awards in each position and became a gala TV event and it was decided to recognise winners from then. I unsuccessfully argued Morris owned a medal with the same name which decided on the same merit as the others, and deserved to be recognised in some way.
Come the game's centenary year in 2008 when I was working as a contractor for the NRL and the Daily Telegraph I posed the question again to several people suggesting it was the perfect time to recognise Morris's achievement but, with the Dally M in a grey area between the two organisations as it kept evolving, the argument again failed to get traction.
A decade later, earlier this year, I asked league's most respected and knowledgeable historian/statistician David Middleton if he was aware Morris had won what I believed was the first Dally M Medal in 1979. Even he had no idea of the situation, having assumed the medal's history began in 1980.
It was through Middleton's advocacy as part of the NRL's history committee, after tracking down 1979 press clippings, that he garnered support within the NRL and the long saga was finally resolved at the Dally M awards night this week and Slippery was finally given the recognition he deserves.
The NRL management under Todd Greenberg, the Telegraph and most certainly Middleton should be applauded for enabling Steve Morris's name to be written back into history and giving him such a justifiable surprise in front of his sons Brett and Josh.
Weeks after the NRL made the right decision to add four pre-war champions to the Immortals list, the two most celebrated player awards in rugby league are now complete.