Indignant but thrilled at once, Tom Cocking voiced his opinion on Dally Messenger being named a rugby league Immortal: “It took too long, to be quite honest.”
Cocking was speaking over the phone at the Royal Hotel in Manilla, where he is the longstanding publican.
Messenger became the hotel’s publican in 1917, the same year he launched league in the town during a meeting at the hotel. He left town two years later after his wife, Annie, died of the bubonic plague.
The Manilla Tigers celebrated their centenary celebration last year, with the legacy of the Master, as Messenger was known, front and centre.
At an induction ceremony at the SGC on Wednesday night, Messenger was made an Immortal alongside two other pre-World War II greats of the game, Dave Brown and Frank Burge, as well as latter day greats Mal Meninga and Norm Provan.
Under a new format, it was the first time pre-war stars were considered for the game’s most hallowed honour in Australia, although all three being inducted was unexpected.
In 2015, a plaque commemorating Messenger’s time at Manilla was unveiled at the Royal Hotel, which includes a restaurant named after him.
Cocking did not balk at the idea of a statue of Messenger being erected in the town.
“You never know what can come out of it now, now that the recognition is there,” he said. “Something could snowball.”
Trevor Hatch, chairman of the organising committee for the centenary celebration, was also not adverse to a Messenger statue.
“We could probably think about doing a bit more for him,” he said, adding: “There’s no doubt about it, we’re proud of the man. Although we got him in the twilight of his career, we still bask in his glory.”
Eight months after the Tigers celebrated the centenary, the club withdrew from Group 4 due to a lack of players.
Hatch would not be drawn on whether Messenger being further immortalised would help the club rebound.
But he said: “You talk to the young blokes around town, they want a team again. It’s just getting people to run it.”
Messenger was the original code-hopper, a rugby union superstar who abandoned the sport after the New South Wales Rugby League was formed in 1907.
He was hugely influential in league’s ability to gain traction in those early years.
The Dally M Award is given to the NRL’s best and fairest player each year.