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John Lang likened packing down in a scrum with Rod Morris to "putting on your favourite slippers".

Such was the feeling of comfort the inaugural Queensland Maroons hooker felt knowing his trusty front-row partner was beside him.

In a remarkable set of circumstances reflective of the 1980 interstate rugby league scene, Lang and Morris played together for New South Wales against Queensland at Leichhardt Oval on May 27, six weeks before both lined up for the Maroons in the 20-10 State of Origin win at Lang Park.

In 1980 Lang had left Easts in Brisbane to play one season with Eastern Suburbs in Sydney, and as the teams in the interstate series were chosen on residency he found himself in a blue jersey for the one and only occasion after previously playing 19 games for Queensland against NSW.

"It was very strange. I remember I got the phone call from Bobby Seabrook who was the secretary of the Roosters at the time and when he told me I was picked in the NSW side I panicked," Lang recalled.

"I forgot the game was being played in Sydney. I thought it was at Lang Park, and the last thing I wanted to do was play against Queensland at Lang Park.

"The other strange thing about that game was that the prop for Queensland, Geoff Naylor, was living in my house back in Brisbane. Geoff, Rod Morris and I were all good mates after playing together at Easts in Brisbane."

Lang was man of the match in a 17-7 win and looking back reckons it should have gone to prop Robert Stone.

"I reckon I got it because I was a bit of an oddity," Lang chuckled.

"I’ve got to say that playing for NSW for the only time you wanted to make sure you won. After playing for Queensland all those years with very little success, to then play for NSW and for Queensland to win… it wouldn’t have been a very good look. It would have been a blow to the pride."

Lang was soon back in his favourite colour for a historic occasion at Lang Park on July 8, alongside his 35-year-old captain who had been waiting a lifetime for the moment.

"I had played a lot of games for Queensland against NSW where Arthur was in the NSW team and people always said that if we could only get our own players then Queensland would win, so when we finally did get them we really needed to aim up," Lang said.

"There was a good crowd, a great atmosphere and Arthur was like a two-year-old and extremely excited, and that was a big positive.

"Arthur was the catalyst for our win. He'd grown up a Queenslander and that was his first chance to play for his state after he’d spent ninety-nine per cent of his career playing for NSW.

"We had young guys like Mal Meninga and Wally Lewis and everybody knew they were the next big thing, so we had a great player in Arthur at the end of his career right through to these guys at the start, who you just knew would go on to be greats."

Morris, who was playing with Balmain in 1980, was Lang’s tight head prop and a front-rower to be reckoned with.

"Rod and I had played a lot of football together at Easts. We’d played for Queensland together and I had played against Rod the year before when he played for NSW," Lang recalled.

"It was a very comfortable feeling have Rod there. Packing in a scrum with him was like pulling on your favourite slippers. It helped your confidence.

"Rod just did his job. He didn’t like to go very far from the middle of the ruck and just did his job relentlessly. He took the ball up and tackled everything that came his way.”

Lang had only won twice for Queensland against NSW in the interstate series, and with 40 years hindsight he looks back at the 1980 Origin clash as a watershed moment in rugby league north of the Tweed.

"The concept had quite a few knockers and I don’t think anybody thought it would be the phenomenon it has been," Lang said.

"They say necessity is the mother of invention and that was the case in 1980 because people in NSW had completely lost interest in the interstate series.

"[Former Queensland Rugby League boss] Ron McAuliffe was always looking for ways to promote the game and he'd had all these schemes over the years about how we were going to beat NSW, and Origin was his last throw of the dice.

"I remember he used to say that you can’t beat them in the board room until you beat them on the field first.”

Certainly 1980 was a year to remember for Lang. He was Dally M hooker of the year, an inaugural State of Origin winner and played for Easts in the NSWRL decider against Canterbury.

"All we needed to do was win the grand final and I would have believed in miracles," Lang grinned.

Lang, who coached Australia in five Super League Tests, went on to have a stellar career as a club coach with Easts Tigers, Cronulla, Penrith and South Sydney and won the 2003 premiership with the Panthers.

The 69-year-old lives on the Gold Coast now, where he is fit as a fiddle and enjoying spending time with his family.

"I am not a fitness fanatic, but I do enough to keep myself in reasonable nick. I go for a body surf most days in summer and winter," Lang said.

"I go surfing with Geoff Richardson, who was a dual-international in the 1970s, and for a bike ride most days.

“My daughter and her family have moved up here and I have six grandchildren on the Gold Coast and three in Sydney.”

Lang can sometimes be seen swimming laps across the canal near where he lives. After coaching the Sharks, he has no concerns about being eaten by one.

"I do swim across it. People worry about the bull sharks but 10 minutes away on my surf ski there are hundreds of people in Tallebudgera Creek so I reckon where I am is pretty safe," Lang chuckled.

 

Acknowledgement of Country

Queensland Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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