Wally Lewis struggles forward 1991 origin series  Photo:Col Whelan. ©Action Photographics

Sport Australia Hall of Fame Media Release

Wally Lewis is known as ‘The King’ and the ‘Emperor of Lang Park’ and he can now add another title – legend of Australian sport.

Just the third rugby league player to become a Sport Australia Hall of Fame Legend, Lewis joins John Raper (2010) and Reg Gasnier (1995) in the pantheon of Australian sporting greats that also includes the first two legends of the Sport Australia Hall of Fame - Sir Donald Bradman and Dawn Fraser.

Lewis said he was “bewildered” to learn of his elevation to legend status.

“I said the same ridiculous thing that you laugh at other people for saying – you’re kidding,” Lewis said.

“You just don’t regard yourself as being in the same class or category as the people that you admired throughout your sporting days when you were watching them.”

Lewis, who had kept the news of his elevation to legend status a secret from his wife until just recently, paid tribute to his father, a former first-grade coach who spent hours with a young Lewis teaching him the nuances of the game. 

“Dad used to say to me – son if you are trying to learn how to play rugby league – these are the things you’ve got to do – you’ve got to tackle as good as Johnny Raper – and I played in the same position as John as a lock forward in my early days.

“That’s what Johnny Raper does, he runs across and cover defends in his tackles, dad would say.”

“He had three rules – make sure you head is in the right spot, your eyes were always open and your arms are wrapped around the tackle,” Lewis recalled.

Despite the length and achievements during his marvellous career, Lewis said there were three moments that stood out.

“My first-grade debut – getting a start in the big time,” Lewis said.

“The first time I was picked to play for Queensland was something that was unbelievable and then playing against NSW in an Origin match.

“And when I was named captain of Australia. That was probably the moment that was the biggest of all. When I got picked to play for Australia I was overjoyed but to be named captain.

“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.

“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!

“That to me was a real indication that all the things I wanted to repay him for, that was a great way to do it as it was obvious what it meant to him that day to have his son running out as Australian captain,” Lewis said.

A Kangaroos captain and State of Origin hero Lewis is remembered for his ability to control a football game, conjure tries from the inconceivable, inspire his team-mates, frustrate the opposition and infuriate opposing fans with a passing game that redefined the sport.

By the end of his career, even those in New South Wales agreed that Wally Lewis was ‘The King’.

Wally Lewis was inducted into The Sport Australia Hall of Fame in 1987 as an athlete member for his contribution to the sport of rugby league, the same year he was made a Member of the Order of Australia for his services to rugby league.

He is now elevated to the status of Legend of Australian sport – the 38th Australian to receive this honour.

*This first appeared on the Sport Australia Hall of Fame website.