Decisions don't come easier.

The first New Zealander to make the NRL Hall of Fame had to be Mark Graham, no matter the claims of fellow nominees Ruben Wiki and Stacey Jones plus future certainty Benji Marshall.

Graham — who has operated gigantic bulldozers for the central Queensland ports authority in recent years — is among the six new Hall of Fame members, announced today.

The lanky forward was that good, that revered, despite playing for North Sydney during the 1980s — the Bears were a club in almost permanent hibernation performance wise.


The 29-test forward Graham, aged 62, has won every accolade available on this side of the Tasman, including the NZRL's official player of the century.

What might be hard to relay to a younger generation is how difficult it was for the comparatively few New Zealand pioneers to win serious regard across the ditch 30 or 40 years ago.

The Kiwis league team, after a brilliant start to the 1970s, had fallen on hard times for the rest of the decade. Australia, quite rightly, had a superiority complex when it came to rugby league in that era. And apart from any sporting issues, New Zealand immigrants were a brand in need of a makeover in Australia.

There were league exceptions though, including another Auckland backrower and Kiwis captain Hugh McGahan who rose so high he was briefly player-coach for the glamorous Sydney Roosters.

The most exceptional Kiwi in the Sydney-based competition was Graham. In his book Modern Rugby League Greats, the game's chief New Zealand historian John Coffey described Graham as "Captain Marvel and the Six Million Dollar Man wrapped into one".

Backrower Graham's battered body required even more rebuilding than television's bionic man. His career as the talismanic shining light in a battling North Sydney team wasn't exactly a health move in an age when tackles could slip up with less fear of detection.

Around this time, an Auckland newspaper printed a picture of Graham in shorts, with arrows pointing to all the body parts which had been broken. He looked like the proverbial pin cushion.

Graham's feats of on-field bravery were legendary, but they shouldn't overshadow what an outstanding player he was on attack and defence. Graham in full flight was a great sight.


Graham's rise was inextricably linked to that of his old Otahuhu mentor Graham Lowe, the famed coach who was the other Kiwi to win off-the-charts acclaim in Australia back then.

When Graham deemed that Lowe had been mistreated by the NZRL, who replaced Lowe as national coach when he joined Wigan, Graham stood down from the Kiwis in protest and missed the 1987 victory over Australia.

This stand-down in support of Lowe was typical of Graham, who tended to call a spade a spade. Before the 1988 World Cup final at a sold-out Eden Park, he broke all the rules by revealing he wasn't happy with the way coach Tony Gordon was preparing the side.

Irony was his career companion in many ways when you consider injury had also sidelined him from the groundbreaking 1983 Kiwis victory in Brisbane.

Mark Graham was, more than any other player, the man who led New Zealand out of the dark 1970s into the dappled sunlight of the 1980s, yet he missed the decade's two great victories over Australia and was part of the most famous loss at Eden Park.

There was a parallel with his career in the major Australian competition. Playing for North Sydney wasn't a winning move — the Bears were mainly in the lower half of the competition during his eight seasons there. His brief career as the Warriors coach didn't get the pulse racing in a good way either.

But for those who loved rugby league, who were around during his time, there was never any doubting the status of the man, the unrivalled quality of the player.

* Graham, Wiki and Jones were among the final 25 Hall of Fame nominees this time. Graham, Ricky Stuart, Petero Civoniceva, Gorden Tallis, Steve Menzies and Cliff Lyons will be inducted at a Sydney ceremony on August 1. They join the original 100 players inducted in 2008.