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Tallis: From young fan to fearless leader

Possessing a ferocious competitiveness that saw him rise to the top of the game, Gorden Tallis has featured in countless rugby league highlight reels, but when he thinks of his favourite State of Origin moments, they all belong to others to have donned the Queensland Maroons jersey.

Tallis is one of the players eligible to be included in the Deadly Maroons Indigenous State of Origin team of the first 40 years; and grew up loving the game of rugby league and loving Origin.

However, despite all of his own achievements, he has first and foremost remained a fan – just like he was when he was a child.

“Now if I think of Origin, the first thing I think about is Billy Slater’s chip-and-chase, the Matty Bowen intercept, Greg Inglis pushing (Mark) Gasnier and (how) he steps over him and there are so many moments... but none of them are mine,” Tallis said.

“I think of Shane Webke just carrying the ball so hard, Wally Lewis... that big, long pass, Mal Meninga just running over someone, they all just flood back; but it’s never any of my moments.

“My favourite moments are (also from) when I was a kid watching it with my family.

“I just remember sitting on the couch – well actually – the couch wasn’t big enough in the house I grew up in, and I was the youngest, so I remember just laying on the floor in the loungeroom and we were allowed to stay up late to watch this side run out in maroon, play against the team in blue.

6 - Slater's try lights up the cauldron

“I just knew in the game of footy the next day at school, you always wanted to be one of those players.

“Looking in the Rugby League Week and buying the jersey with the name on the back, whether it was Miles or Lewis or Bob Lindner, you were the cool kid if you had a Queensland jersey with the players name on the back.”

Those childhood memories demonstrate how Origin came to mean so much to Tallis, with the seed sown by following the interstate challenges before Queenslanders were brought back to represent their 'home' state.  

“I was seven when the first (State of Origin) game was on... I don’t remember too much, but I remember dad,” Tallis said.

“(Normally) we would always talk through footy, but we couldn’t talk when Origin was on... it was like the news, it was so important, when you came home you always had to be quiet for that half-an-hour of news... well that rugby league game.

“We could talk through the game on Saturday afternoon and we could talk through the game on Sunday night, but we couldn’t talk through Origin.”

While the presence of Arthur Beetson looms large in the memory following that first game, there were other players who also inspired a young Tallis.

“There were some Townsville players, Colin Scott, he’s a Townsville man and to go and watch – I was the ball boy and I got a photo with him and Chris Phelan and they played in our competition along with Gene Miles,” Tallis said.

“(To see) those guys playing footy in Townsville and going and playing for their state and their country, you know, it was pretty inspiring to have guys that you would go down to the local Townsville Sports Reserve and watch these guys play one game and next thing, they are running out for Queensland and Australia.

“Without there being ‘pathways’, you knew that were pathways if you were good enough and if you were lucky enough to get the opportunity, you know a little skinny kid from Townsville could make it in the big smoke.”

In his Origin career, Tallis played 17 games for Queensland, and from the first time he pulled on the jersey until the last, the magnitude of what it represented was at the forefront of his mind.   

“I think it’s surreal, the first time you look at your jersey and your name is on the back, the emotions that go through you, they are all different, one is pride … there is so much,” Tallis said.

“You think of your family, your teammates, everybody who supported you – and everyone who didn’t and would knock you down – it’s an amazing journey to get to that moment, and that’s just looking at it in the dressing room.

“I think getting selected for Queensland is the easy part; performing for Queensland is the hard part.

“Performing and making sure you don’t let the jersey down.

“When they hand you the jersey, the jersey is there with so many memorable moments for everybody for one reason for another.

“That’s if you have watched it with your grandfather, or you have coached a young kid, whatever it is, the jersey that runs out has so many stories to be told about it and they hand you one and you just want to make sure you don’t let it down, and it can be daunting.

“That’s the thing that people don’t understand, it’s more than a jersey, it represents a lot more than that to us.”

When it comes to his own decorated career, there are plenty of things Tallis achieved, but captaining his state and leading a young and inexperienced group of men in the Origin arena is one of his highest honours.

However, it took some advice from the then-coach Wayne Bennett, who has signed on again for the 2020 campaign, to fully appreciate the experience.

“I remember sitting in the dressing room one day and I might have just become captain and he goes, ‘what are you thinking?’, because he must have seen that I was nervous,” Tallis said.

“I had all those things that I spoke about – the jersey, and now I am the captain, so I think there is more responsibility, being the leader of these men – he said ‘remember when you were a kid watching these games? You’d go to school the next day and you wanted to be the best player’.

“He said ‘imagine if every kid in grew up tomorrow and wanted to be Gorden Tallis?’

“It was pretty good you know, just sitting in there and you don’t think it. But he just said that.

'The Raging Bull' never backed down in Origin

“And when you are a kid, you are thinking of it, and when you are an adult, you don’t.

“Wayne highlighted it for me.

“It was a moment that I was proud of, you are proud of it, but it was sort of strange; it was not something where you go ‘oh, well I am captain’, we were playing and then you get handed the opportunity.

"For me, it was like remembering myself in my first ever game when Mal Meninga was the captain and Wally Lewis was the coach; that’s pretty unbelievable.

“Sitting in a dressing room and two of your heroes – you are playing with one in their last ever series in Mal Meninga, an Immortal – there’s two Immortals, two of the best players ever, just saying 'enjoy the week' and do this or that, and I am just thinking, ‘oh my god’, you know?

“(When thinking about Origin), I suppose in a nutshell, you ask yourself, did you add to the jersey, or did you let the jersey down, and that’s about all you can do.”

Click here to view the Deadly Maroons Origin Team of the First 40 Years nominees and to assemble your Deadly Maroons dream team.