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Hall of Fame - Wally Lewis (1988-90)

Vital Statistics

Name: Wally Lewis Nickname: The King
Born: Brisbane, 1st December, 1959 Position: 5/8
Broncos Games: 46 Points: 102 (20t, 11g).
Represented: Australia (33 tests): 1981-1989, 1991; State of Origin (Queensland, 31 games): 1980-1991.
Captained: Broncos 1988-1989; Queensland 1981-1991; Australia 1984-1989.

The King

Wally Lewis was known as "The King" long before he joined the Brisbane Broncos in 1987. In fact, his years at the Broncos were arguably his least successful. While he continued to be dominant at Test and State of Origin level, his club form was ordinary, due mainly to a succession of injuries and an obvious relationship problem with Broncos coach Wayne Bennett. However, for all his problems, Lewis is arguably the main reason the Broncos had the instant success that has seen them develop into a juggernaut of Australian Rugby League.
Lewis was brought up in Brisbane in the 60s and 70s on a diet of Rugby Union. He excelled as a five-eighth at schoolboy level and represented the Australian Schoolboys Rugby Union side in 1977. That side included future legends Michael O'Connor, Tony Melrose and the Ella brothers. O'Connor would become one of Lewis' great rivals in the toughest interstate competition in the world.

In 1978, Lewis switched to rugby league, playing with Valleys in Brisbane. He played for Queensland in their illfated clashes with New South Wales in the late 70s, before being chosen at lock for the first State of Origin game in 1980. Queensland of course won that clash 20-10 which was the start of a wondeful tradition that has lasted 20 years and is still growing stronger.

In 1981, Lewis assumed the captaincy after the retirement of Arthur Beetson, and it was a position he held until his retirement from the State arena in 1991. He played 31 matches in total and was, and remains, the most dominant player ever to take part in Origin football. Lewis was the man most responsible for Queensland's absolute domination of State of Origin in the 1980s, earning himself the title of "The King". A statue was erected at Lang Park and it remains today, a symbol of a true legend of rugby league.

He made his Test debut in 1981, and was a fixture in the side until 1990, when injuries forced him out of the team in controversial circumstances. In 1991 he returned for his final matches. He captained his country on 23 occasions and was a pivotal member of the victorious 1986 Kangaroo tour to Great Britain and France. While Lewis didn't hold the same domination at international level he had at state level, he was still a feared competitor, unleashing one of the great tackles of all time in a match against New Zealand in 1989.

A firey competitor, Lewis is remembered for some of his on field remonstrations and off field conflicts with journalists. The most famous was his run in with Mark Geyer in 1991, standing toe to toe with a much larger man. Referee David Manson courageously stood between them to break up the fracas that erupted following a sequence of high shots from Geyer.

A battle with referee Mick Stone in 1988 was also very public. Lewis was sin binned for five minutes for dissent. The loyal Lang Park crowd then pelted beer cans onto the field at the New South Wales players and the referee and touch judges. The game was halted while calm was restored. Queensland won the match. The next day, Lewis was attacked in the media by journalists for inciting the crowd to behave in that manner. Lewis didn't hold back, one attack on Sydney's Steve Liebman (who hosts the Today show) was particularly vicious. While his hot headedness earnt him a lot of criticism, it was a sign of his undoubtable passion, his will to win and his true fighting qualities that epitomised Queensland rugby league in the 1980s.

In 1987, the Brisbane Broncos were formed to enter in the NSWRL in 1988. Lewis was the first signing and named captain. That was the infant club's most important signing. It attracted other big name players out of the Brisbane competition and ensured a strong first up performance. Players such as Greg Dowling, Gene Miles, Greg Conescu, Joe Kilroy and a very young Allan Langer signed with the club, which on debut thrashed defending champions Manly, and went on to win its first six matches.

A midseason slump cost the Broncos a debut finals appearance, but that start set the Broncos for a future of success. In 1989, they again started well, but the trend of midseason slumps around representative time continued. Although Brisbane qualified in fifth spot in 1989, they were elminated in a playoff for fifth spot by Cronulla and subsequently missed the finals. In the 1989 offseason, Lewis was sacked as captain by Bennett in favour of Lewis' close friend Gene Miles. Miles was reluctant to accept, until Lewis assured him he would hold no grudges.

An injury early in 1990 ruled Lewis out for much of the opening half of the season. He missed the first State of Origin match but returned as Queensland were humbled by the Blues. The Broncos went on to finish in the top 3 and qualify for their first finals campaign. Unfortunately, Lewis missed much of the charge with a broken arm. He returned for the ill fated Preliminary Final against Canberra, where the Broncos were knocked out 30-2. Canberra went on to win the competition. ARL doctor Nathan Gibbs ruled Lewis unfit for the 1990 Kangaroo Tour, despite Lewis getting through the semi final unscathed and being cleared by club doctors. The decision cost Lewis a chance to break the record for most matches as Australian captain.

At the end of the 1990 season, Lewis announced he was quitting the Brisbane Broncos. His problems with Bennett were highlighted as the main reason, and it was fairly clear Bennett didn't see Lewis in the club's plans for the future. The decision left a sour taste in the mouth of most Queenslanders, and cries of indignation went through every radio programme in Queensland. Had the decision not been successful, the Broncos would've lost all support. Luckily, two years later they won their first premiership.

The Gold Coast Seagulls were lucky enough to take Lewis on as their captain, however success was never on the cards at the doomed club. Lewis played his last series for Queensland in 1991, coming out victorious and proudly completing a lap of honour at Lang Park with his children by his side. Lewis had become a strong spokesman for the Australian Deafness Foundation, with his family affected by his daughter's profound deafness.

1992 was Lewis' final year as a player, taking on a captain-coach role at the Seagulls. It was an unfortunate end to his career, with the Seagulls finishing last. No doubt it cut him deeply watching the Broncos walk their victory lap after their first premiership the same year.

With New Zealand born Graham Lowe retiring as Queensland coach for health reasons in 1992, Lewis took over the role the following year. Sadly, he didn't have the same success he had as a player, Queensland losing the first two matches before winning the dead rubber. 1994 held his coaching highlight, with Queensland scoring that famous last minute try with Mark Coyne to snatch the first match in the series. Unfortunately, two lacklustre performances saw Queensland lose the series and Lewis was unceremoniously sacked as coach.

That was the end of Lewis' official participation in rugby league, although he does still get involved in the Origin campaigns and is a respected commentator on the Nine network and Fox Sports. It would be unfair to remember Lewis solely for his three years at the Broncos and to look at his on field performances as his only contribution to Brisbane's success in their short history. His reputation and standing in the game attracted big names and young players alike and has ensured a successful future for the club regardless.

The King he certainly was, and to all who ever watched him play, he always will be.

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