An Immortal, The Emperor of Lang Park and one of the greatest players the game has seen. Wally Lewis grew up on a diet of rugby league and his passion, guts and spectacular talent are what made him a Queensland icon. As we celebrate the 35th anniversary of King Wally’s first game as captain of the Mighty Maroons, let’s take a look back at his rugby league journey.
The journey begins
Wally Lewis grew up in the Brisbane suburb of Cannon Hill, attending Brisbane State High school. He earned a spot on the 1977 Australian Schoolboys rugby union tour of Great Britain, the first of three undefeated tours Wally made of Great Britain while representing Australia.
After returning from the Australian Schoolboys tour, Lewis faced pressure to quit playing rugby league otherwise risk not being selected for representative rugby union. Immediately knowing his future was with rugby league, Wally went to play for the Valley’s Diehards in the Brisbane Rugby League premiership from 1978, coached by his father Jim Lewis.
Foundation of Origin
Wally made his debut on the Origin stage when he was selected for the run-on side in the inaugural State of Origin match in 1980, alongside his hero Arthur Beetson. Lewis took over the captaincy from his hero the following year.
Continued representative success
From miracle tries, to gutsy comebacks and a few biffs, Wally undoubtedly created some of the most memorable State of Origin moments of all time, earning the title The Emperor of Lang Park. He was selected for the Australian Test team in 1981 and the next year earned his first Origin Man of the Match award. He holds the record at an impressive eight times earning this honour. The same year Wally vice-captained the Kangaroos as they became the first side to go through Great Britain and France undefeated, nicknamed The Invincibles.
Wally continued his journey by heading to the Old Dart to play in the 1983-84 rugby league season for Wakefield Trinity. His standout international performances were further showcased representing Oceania as captain, leading a 54-4 victory over a French team. King Wally was further recognised by receiving the Golden Boot award as the world’s best international player in 1984.
Moving to Wynnum Manly in 1984-87, his genius at five-eighth was undoubtable, continuing to impress as he joined the Brisbane Broncos in 1988-90. After two seasons with the Broncos the controversial decision was made to replace Wally as captain with teammate Gene Miles, who had retired from representative football. With the relationship with the Broncos soured, King Wally headed to the Gold Coast Seagulls in 1991 as captain and captain-coach in the 1992 season. After one of the most impressive careers in league history Wally played his last game versus a South Australian team on November 7, 1992.
Representing the Mighty Maroons in 31 State of Origin games and 30 as captain ensured Wally’s legacy as one of the most iconic Queenslanders of all time. After retiring from Origin at the end of the 1991 series, Wally was immortalised in bronze at Lang Park (Suncorp Stadium), paying tribute to The Emperor of Lang Park. In 1999 Wally was inducted into the Immortals, consisting of the greatest players the game has seen.
His standout Origin, club and international performances, along with his guts and leadership showcased throughout his career, have earned King Wally Lewis, the Emperor of Lang Park, a special place in the heart of every Queenslander.