Greats pay tribute to the late Darrell Eastlake

Queensland greats pay tribute to Darrell Eastlake

Sports commentator Darrell Eastlake has died after suffering from Alzheimer's disease, aged 75.

Eastlake was the voice of State of Origin in the 1980s in partnership with legendary coach Jack Gibson.

He had been suffering from Alzheimer's disease and emphysema since 2010 and died in his nursing home on the NSW Central Coast on Thursday morning.

Queensland legend Wally Lewis was devastated with the news of Eastlake's death before waxing lyrical about his ability to turn the mundane into the marvellous.

"The blokes used to joke that you could watch the most boring game of croquet but if Darrell was commentating he would still have people on the edge of their seats," Lewis told NRL.com.

"He added excitement, inspiration, thrill and probably hope because he gave people belief their team was always still a chance to win by the way he called.

"I remember watching him on Wide World of Sports with Ian Chappell when he was in a more controlled mood, but as soon as he got in the commentary chair that was it. It was a thrill a minute with him and he was just a wonderful bloke."

The blokes used to joke that you could watch the most boring game of croquet but if Darrell was commentating he would still have people on the edge of their seats.

Wally Lewis

One of Eastlake’s most iconic calls in Holden State of Origin history came in Game Two in 1989 when Lewis picked up the ball and raced 40m to score a classic try and lift his side to an unlikely 16-12 victory against the odds.

"There’s been a lot of injuries in this game and it has been played at an amazing pace, but here’s Wally Lewis with a stolen ball now,” Eastlake unfurled as his excitement levels rose.

"Lewis makes his way up field … he’s got some pace … Lewis, can he go all the way? Still going…Wally Lewis has gone in and look at this.”

Lewis pumped his forearms in the air and Eastlake was pumped, as he always was.

Lewis said he was proud Eastlake the man who immortalised his greatest Origin try of all time in a game where the Maroons lost five men to injury.

"It excited him as much as it excited the fans because he knew he was taking the game to the people," Lewis said.

"That was a night where a million things went wrong for Queensland. Alf broke his leg. Mal fractured his cheekbone. Paul Vautin dislocated his elbow. Bob Lindner broke his ankle and Michael Hancock also came off with [a shoulder] injury.

“It was the first time a team in Origin history finished a game with 12 men.

“I then had the thrill of working in that Origin arena as well in commentary and to talk to Darrell away from the game you got an understanding of how he switched on as soon as the whistle went for kick-off. He launched into it and it was something quite extraordinary."

Former Australian and NSW hooker Danny Buderus, who played 21 games for the Blues, says everyone who watched the early years of State of Origin games would link Eastlake immediately to those matches.

"My earliest memories of Origin had Darrell Eastlake's voice all over it," Buderus told NRL.com.

"He called so many amazing memories, that built that rivalry into what it is today."

Hard-running Queensland centre Chris Close, who played nine games for the Maroons (1980-86) recalls the larger-than-life profile Eastlake possessed.

"Darrell was such a nice bloke, his enthusiasm was absolutely infectious, and his smile was bigger than the room," Close told NRL.com.

"They certainly don't make them like that anymore. It's very sad to hear the news."

NRL chief executive Todd Greenberg said Eastlake would always have his place in the game's history.

"For a long time, his voice personified State of Origin," Greenberg said.

"His calls were always colourful, larger than life, and he oozed passion through every tackle or big moment.

"Darrell will always be part of the rich history of State of Origin and he played an important role in the growth of the contest as a whole."

Former Queensland captain Darren Lockyer, who played 36 times for the Maroons, credits Eastlake for the part he played in fostering his love of Origin.

"The first ever game of rugby league I watched was game one in 1987 when (Mark) McGaw scored late," Lockyer told NRL.com.

"And (Wayne) Bennett was blowing up in the stands. It was a great game but without doubt it was Eastlake’s call … he made each pivotal moment, as well as the whole game, exciting with his enthusiasm and that distinctive voice."

Darren Lockyer representing the Maroons in 2002.
Darren Lockyer representing the Maroons in 2002. ©NRL Photos

The man they called ‘The Axe’ because of the way he chopped players in half in defence, Trevor Gillmeister, will never forget Eastlake’s commentary.

"I think it was his enthusiasm, pure and simple," said the veteran of 22 games for Queensland.

"I loved him and Jack Gibson commentating on Origin. It was one extreme to another. Also when he called the surf boat races, I will always remember ‘Ladies and Gents it is HUUUGE surf here today’."

NSW halfback Peter Sterling, who won three man-of-the-match awards in his 13 games for the Blues, also remembers the Eastlake-Gibson combo fondly.

"I vividly remember his involvement with State of Origin, especially his repartee with Jack Gibson," Sterling said.

"I don’t think Darrell every quite got over the fact he was sitting beside the ‘Super Coach’ while at work. It was pretty special. They were a nice balance.”