Andrew Johns heard whispers he was going to be named rugby league's eighth Immortal but nothing prepared him for the sight of his image appearing on the Sydney Harbour Bridge to signal he had clinched the honour.
A surprised Johns leapfrogged Norm Provan, Ron Coote and Mal Meninga for the honour at a fundraiser for the Men of League charity in Sydney on Thursday night.
Johns, the former Newcastle star, joins Bob Fulton, John Raper, Clive Churchill, Reg Gasnier, Graeme Langlands, Wally Lewis and Arthur Beetson in the illustrious list of Immortals.
NSW premier Barry O'Farrell made the announcement by telling guests to watch the big screen with the image of the eighth Immortal to appear on a pylon of Sydney's iconic bridge.
"It's just so overwhelming ... those things like winning grand finals and playing for Australia, that's all team orientated and that's why you play footy but individual awards, you don't play to win Dally M's or Clive Churchill medals or anything like that," Johns said.
"No-one ever thinks they are going to join this select group of players ... an Immortal. I'm just blown away by it.
"You hear whispers, there's no secrets in rugby league as we all know. I sort of didn't really believe it."
"I don't know when it's going to sink in. I'm going surfing in a couple of days, it might sink in then."
"Those guys are like icons of the game and have done so much. I grew up idolising those players."
Johns, a freakishly talented halfback, played 249 games for the Knights between 1993 and 2007 as well as 27 Tests for Australia and 24 games for NSW.
With sublime kicking and passing skills and uncanny ability to read the game, many pundits felt he re-defined the role of the No.7 in rugby league.
But there had been question marks about whether he was worthy of the award in light of admissions in his biography of frequent recreational drug use and alcohol abuse.
Johns, though, felt people had moved on.
"I feel like the game's forgiven me," he said.
"I'd love to go back and change some things but I unfortunately you can't do that."
"They were hard times but they shape the person you are. We all make mistakes, don't we."
Langlands was delighted for Johns.
"It's bloody terrific to see him get it," Langlands said.
"I hope he enjoys it as much as I did when I came into it. It's great to see him in there."
Rugby League Week owns the Immortals' brand with the latest inductee chosen by 18 judges including the five living Immortals and a host of rugby league personalities including coach Wayne Bennett and radio presenter Ray Hadley.
Legends such as Dally Messenger and Frank Burge, are ineligible because they played before World War II, one of the Immortals' original stipulations.
The first judges (Frank Hyde, Harry Bath and Tom Goodman) agreed in 1981 they could only judge players they had seen in action.
- Fairfax Media
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