Queensland State of Origin hero and Australian Test stalwart Wally Lewis became the 38th Legend of Australian Sport at the Sport Australia Hall of Fame Induction and Awards Gala in Melbourne.
At the risk of editorialising a “news” post, it’s difficult to think of a more deserving athlete for the accolade than The King, such is his position even today as one of the all-time greats of rugby league.
Lewis is the third league identity to be added to the most exclusive list in Australian sport. St George Dragons legend Johnny Raper - rated by many experts as the greatest lock the game has ever seen - was added to the Legends list back in 2010. Fifteen years earlier, fellow Dragon Reg Gasnier, whose role in St George’s champion sides of the 1960s earned him the nickname “Puff the Magic Dragon”, was the first inductee from the 13-man game.
Despite the Maroons’ current dominance of State of Origin, none of the members of the modern Queensland juggernaut, despite being superstars in their own right, can lay claim to the pure fright Lewis generated for NSW teams across the 1980s and early ‘90s. Lewis appeared in 31 Origins between 1980 and ’81, and won eight man of the match awards. If that’s not impressive enough, five of those gongs came across a stretch of six games.
Lewis was simply amazing. As Big League wrote in that magazine’s State of Origin 25th anniversary edition back in 2005, “He was before his time in the way he could read a game, could throw long, bullet-like passes, kick majestically, then pull off a big hit in defence … he was the most complete player the game had seen.”
If New South Wales supporters didn’t always appreciate his champion qualities around Origin time, they certainly did when the international matches rolled around. Lewis (pictured above playing in England in 1986), one of the most competitive Australian captains you’ll ever see at any level in any sport, played in 34 Tests between 1981 and 1991 and proved the heart and soul of the Kangaroos in both matches played at home and on those famous Kangaroo Tours of Britain.
At the Hall of Fame function, Lewis shared a touching, but funny story about one rugby league Test in particular.
“I remember standing at the Sydney Cricket Ground, we were playing France and I led the team out onto the field and we stood in a semi-circle facing the main grandstand when the national anthems were played,” Lewis said.
“I remember looking up into the grandstand and seeing my dad. It was pretty obvious that he was wiping the tears away from his eyes. I said to mum after the game, ‘What was that going on with Dad?’ Mum said he was crying. Dad said, ‘I was not, it was just dusty!’”
Lewis was also as amazing servant in club footy, appearing in over 300 games between 1978 and 1992 for Fortitude Valley, Wakefield Trinity, Wynnum-Manly, the Brisbane Broncos and Gold Coast Seagulls.