Then and Now July 28 2021

The 1981 Australian side with Wally Lewis 3rd from left, second row.

This weekend, the QRL History Committee will stage the annual ‘Ross Livermore’ lecture in Brisbane. This lecture is named after the former, long-serving, Manager of Queensland Rugby League and involves a guest speaker highlighting some historical aspect of the game.

This year, the guest speaker is none other than former Queensland and Australian Captain, Wally Lewis.

People watching Wally present sport on TV are probably well-aware of his huge rugby league career but may not know that he made the Australian side at the tail end of an era when it was hard for Queensland-based players to do so.

It is years since Wally was first selected to play for Australia and the rugby league world was different back in 1981! It was really the last year of an era in rugby league, which started almost 20 years before, and when it was hard for Queensland-based players to make Australian sides.

NSW were very dominate in interstate football in the 1960s and 1970s, largely because the Sydney competition was massive and even though we always found a new crop of players to represent Qld, many would be lured south the to play in the Sydney competition and come back the following year playing for NSW against us. This meant Qld wins were hard to come by, translating to making getting into the Australian side also hard to do. 

The achievements of those Queensland-based players who did make Australian sides in that era were truly remarkable and many of them were from the bush. Players like Tully’s Angelo Crema, Innisfail’s Lionel Williamson, Alan Gil from Cairns and Ayr’s Gary Wellington and Brian Fitzsimmons, all made Australian sides in the mid-to-late 1960s when it was hard to do so.

Through the 1970s, it was much the same. We had a few players in Australian sides, but some years we had none, like 1979, when NSW won the interstate series 3-0.

Then it all started to change. In 1980 and 1981, one-off interstate matches were played based on from where players came, and Queensland won both. Plus, a new crop of talented young players started to emerge around the State. 

One of these talented youngsters was 20-year-old Brisbane Valley’s player, Walter J. Lewis.

Wally was in the Queensland squad in 1979 and 1980, under the old residency rules, and played in the one-off Origin match in 1980. Then in 1981, he went one step further when selected to play for Australia, becoming the first resident Queensland player to make the Australian side in a test match since 1978!

The following year, 1982, the interstate series changed forever to Origin and Queensland started to win many more game and series and gain healthy representation in Australian sides. 

Wally Lewis missed just two games for his beloved Queensland from 1981 to 1991 and was named Australian Captain in 1984 and held this positon until 1989. He is often remembered for his achievements later in his career with the Brisbane Broncos, but it was in 1981 that the legend of Wally Lewis really started to emerge.

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