For all the brilliance Greg Inglis brought to the rugby league field, Titans Head of Performance and Culture Mal Meninga says it is the South Sydney captain’s humility, humanity and humour that will best define him.
Meninga today described Inglis’ decision to retire from the NRL immediately because of injury as “sad for the game”, but had no doubt his fellow former Queensland captain would be remembered as one of the greatest to have played the game.
Meninga handed Inglis his State of Origin debut in 2006, was his Australian Test coach in more recent years, and has watched Inglis’ transition from freakishly talented teen to one of the game’s elite elder statesmen.
But rugby league’s 13th Immortal said the evolution of Inglis the man was even more impressive than the meteoric rise of Inglis the player.
“Greg has always aspired to becoming a person who can make a difference in his community, and in the Australian community,” Meninga said. “I first met him when he was 18 years of age, and he never had any other idea but to make a real difference.
“I loved the way he carried himself. I loved the fact that he was humble, and he was honest.
“He was well grounded, even when he was a kid. I have loved being around him. He had a sense of fun about him.”
Despite that admiration, Meninga still had to enforce the coach-player dynamic last year when he stripped Inglis of the Australian captaincy after the Rabbitoh was charged with drink driving.
While history will now show that Inglis never got the chance to captain his country, Meninga said the decision to take the game’s highest accolade away from Inglis was an easy decision.
“Ironically, it was an easy decision because he knew he stuffed up,” Meninga said. “He was a part of the values system (created for) the way we want to behave when we put on the green and gold.
“It was a pretty easy decision because he understands his stature in the game.”
Despite that controversy and premature retirement through injury, Meninga said Inglis was bound to feature in any discussion about the game’s future Immortals.
“When you go through his resume with the amount of games he played, man of the matches, Clive Churchill, Golden Boot… all those things he has achieved in his career – he is up there with the best players to have played our game,” he said.
“I imagine he would be in the (Immortals) frame for sure. We have had a blessed generation, when you are talking about the Cameron Smiths, the Johnathan Thurstons, the Billy Slaters and Cooper Cronks.
“And obviously Greg Inglis is a part of all that. He will come into discussions down the track, I have no doubt about that.
“I (first) saw him play for (Brisbane) Norths, and he was scoring the same tries then that he did in the NRL. The higher he went, the better he got.
“You could see he was a natural talent, but what we didn’t know in his early days was his sense of character as a person, the way he carried himself.
“We knew he loved the game and we knew he was a person of conviction. He wanted to play for Queensland. That was his decision.
“He stuck by that and he has copped a lot of criticism over the years because of that.
“That is one thing that I love about Greg. All that adversity, all that criticism, he has handled it really well and become an even better person.
“That is the person we have today, who had to make a decision about his career. He didn’t want to put other people in jeopardy, or put Souths in jeopardy. That is the type of person he is.”
Titans prop Jarrod Wallace, a Queensland State of Origin teammate of Inglis last year, said he expects the South Sydney skipper’s contribution to the game to carry on long after hanging up the boots.
“The impact that he has had on the NRL community and young NRL players has been massive,” Wallace said.
“He has been instrumental for Queensland for the past 12 or 13 years that he has played. I was lucky enough to play the series with him last year. I am one of the lucky ones to say that I have pulled the boots on with GI.
“I know for (retirement) to be the outcome, it would have been a missive decision for him and his family. Full respect to him for making that now.
“I hope to see him around the game still. I still think he will be a massive part of it.”