Why Alfie is my favourite Maroon: Ticker

Why Alfie is my favourite Maroon: Ticker

Wayne 'Ticker' Heming is a veteran rugby league correspondent who has attended more than 100 State of Origin matches. Approaching the first game of the 2018 Origin series, held on June 6 in Melbourne, 'Ticker' will delve into the memory banks to recall some of his standout moments and individuals from one of the world's greatest sporting contests.

Let's have a bit of fun with this column and nominate your favourite Queensland Origin players over the past four decades.

This is not your best players - that is for another day.

This is your favourite players, the players you loved watching for whatever reason.

For example, as far as I'm concerned there is no argument Billy Slater is the best player to wear the Maroon No.1 jumper - perhaps the best fullback ever.

But I loved watching Gary Belcher play in that position.

Badge's attacking game was so under-rated and under-valued until he proved himself at representative level, winning a Brisbane grand final under Wayne Bennett at Brisbane Souths and two more with Canberra.

Belcher went on three Kangaroo Tours and at the peak of his game was the best in the world.

But that's the amazing quality of the 193 players who have donned the Maroons jersey since 1980.
At their best, most of them were world-class.

My all-time favourite player, who's also a strong contender when we get around to discussing the 'best' player to wear a Queensland jumper, is Allan 'Alfie' Langer.

The jockey-sized Langer defied the critics - including long-time coach Bennett - to become one of the game's greatest halfbacks.

So many stories abound about Langer's shock selection in 1987, including concerns the skinny blond-haired kid from Ipswich would be Origin-fodder in the rough-and-tumble Origin arena.

North Queensland's Laurie Spina and Brisbane's Kevin Walters were the top two contenders and Langer came out of the blue.

Langer's critics though had not counted on the courage of this 165cm pocket dynamo, whose weight when he retired was 76kg, but was more like 66kg wringing wet when he beat Spina to the No.7 jumper.

It was perhaps the Maroons' biggest ever selection gamble.

I remember thinking when Alfie cut Wally Lewis out with a pass in his first Origin game in 1987: 'This kid has got had some guts'.

Two games later, Langer turned in a man-of-the-match performance as Queensland grabbed the series 2-1, giving Bennett his first series win and earning him a contract with the new Brisbane Broncos team.

The series decider produced a memorable final 40 minutes, with the halftime score of 10-8 becomin the final score in the decider.

Watching Langer - who ironically was endorsed for the Queensland job by none other than devout NSW supporter Tommy Raudonikis – as he mesmerised defences with his sidestep, speed, elusiveness sleight of hand and deft kicking game during his 34 Origins was a joy to behold.

We all have different reasons why we are drawn to certain players.

Dale 'Rowdy' Shearer was another player I loved watching.

I doubt I've seen a player with more natural ability than Shearer, or more confidence in his own speed and ability.

I swear I have no idea just how fast Shearer actually was, as he only ever ran as fast as he needed to be.
But he was quick, very quick, and had a sidestep and swerve as good as any player I've seen.

'Rowdy', who played 26 games for Queensland between 1984-1986, was the subject of a long-standing joke that he used to telephone the selectors leading up to every Origin series to tell them he was fit and in great form.

I have heard from a reasonably reliable source he is still texting to selectors at the age of 52 and, if you saw him today, you would think he was fit enough to play again.

Langer was one of several small men who were Origin favourites of mine.

Kerry Boustead and Les Kiss excelled as wingers in the days before the 100kg giants like Wendell Sailor, Lote Tuqiri and Israel Folau.

Michael Hancock made watching Origin fun, but he was world-class for speed and power and he was for many years regarded as the hardest man in rugby league to tackle.

He was an angry man back then but since hanging his boots I can report he is a terrific bloke who does a lot of work for rugby league.

Giant centres Mal Meninga and Gene Miles were also favourites - Meninga for his power to run over players and Miles, who was also a strong runner who had the best one handed off-load in the game.

Throw in 'The Axe' Trevor Gillmeister for his ability to knock the wind out of far bigger rivals with his rib-rattling hits and Chris 'Choppy' Close who, along with big Artie Beetson, put the passion into the Maroon jumper and you have most of my favourite players.

Who is my best?

Well, you'll just have to keep reading my column in coming weeks.