PREVIEW 🔍 Robert Crosby looks at what to expect in Sunday night's second State of Origin clash.
5 hours ago
When you go to pick the greatest team ever to have play rugby league there are several worthy candidates for each position, but the captain is not one of them. Wally Lewis is a "no brainer" for the coveted role. The leadership qualities he displayed for Queensland against New South Wales where he single-handedly destroyed magnificent team after magnificent team, makes the task of whose name to put the little "c" after, a simple one indeed. Take the famous or infamous - depending on your own interpretation - incident The King had with an explosive Mark Geyer. It was a pivotal moment in the match and Lewis knew his response to the in-your-face challenge from the monstrous backrower would pretty much determine the outcome of the match. It was courage under fire at its finest. But not satisfied with just standing his ground, the unthinkable occurred when the ageing superstar and not his rampaging opponent gained the ascendency as both players were leaving the field, with David Manson trying to break them apart. It was absolutely riveting to watch it unfold. A moment in sport not just rugby league, that for yours truly has left an indelible impression and will remain in the memory bank for eternity. I mean for most if not all of us, if we're completely honest with ourselves, caught in the same position it would have been a case of an immediate onset of panic brought on by sheer fear being closely followed by a ducking for cover. Can you imagine how empowering it would have been for the Queensland team to have witnessed their captain's astonishing display of bravado at such close range? They weren't about to let Lewis down, and they didn't. This isolated event should be enough on its own to endorse Lewis as five-eighth and captain when naming the team of the century. It wasn't just in State of Origin that Lewis dominated. When the Kangaroos toured England in 1986 with Don Furner as coach, the mercurial Queenslander controlled virtually all that happened both during games and on the training paddock. His all-consuming contribution is best described by a member of the squad (Les Kiss) who simply said: "Wally did everything." A vast array of highly respected people associated with the game rate The King the greatest player ever. Among them is the doyen of league commentators, Ray Warren, ex-international and now radio personality Peter Tunks, and importantly given he toured with Lewis as members of the Australian Rugby Union schoolboys, Tony Melrose. So with Lewis in the number six jumper with the little "c" beside his name, who should he have around him? I suppose you are duty bound to include Wally's felllow Immortals in the team, which is both wise and logical. That means the man known as the Little Master, Clive Churchill, slots in at fullback. His main rivals would be Graeme Langlands (who I've selected in the centres), Les Johns, Ken Thornett, and of more recent times Graham Eadie, Garry Jack, Gary Belcher and Anthony Minichiello. On the wings, I've gone for pure speed in Kenny Irvine and brute power in Eric Grothe. A lethal pairing you would agree. Others deserved of consideration include Mike Cleary, Harold Horder, Ian Moir, Johnny King and Brian Carlson. I settled on Reg Gasnier and Graeme Langlands narrowly over Bobby Fulton, as my centre combination. Gasnier's speed and evasive skills along with the outrageous stepping ability of the man the called "Changa", shredded the best of defences. Honourable mentions go to players such as Harry Wells, Steve Rogers, Mick Cronin, Mal Meninga and Gene Miles. The biggest threat to Lewis for the five-eighth position would come from Fulton with Brian Clay, Brett Kenny, Brad Fittler, Laurie Daley and Darren Lockyer certain to get support. The halfback position goes to Andrew Johns with Alfie Langer only a whisker away. A halves pairing of Johns and Lewis is the stuff of dreams, and I don't know how anyone could resist putting these two freakish players together. Keith Holman Billy Smith, Peter Sterling and Steve Mortimer are other great number sevens who wouldn't be out of place in the team. My backrow would consist of Johnny Raper at lock with Ronnie Coote and Sonny Bill Williams in the second row. To prospect of grouping this trio together is far too mouth-watering to even contemplate. Sure, Sonny Bill scores no points on the basis of longevity, but put simply, if he stays healthy for the next eight to ten years, he could leap-frog all those who've played before him. Trust me, he is that good. The most naturally gifted player I have ever seen. And it is his outrageous talent which I believe will lead to the New Zealand Rugby Union tempting him with the biggest contract in history to become an All Black. Fortunately, the big thing rugby league has in its favour, is Sonny Bill loves league and loathes union. The kick-happy nature of rugby union and the complexity of the rules which slows the game right down, is in direct conflict to what Sonny Bill is all about. An all-action man who thrives on an up-tempo, confrontational sport ie: rugby league. Another rugby union turn-off is Sonny Bill wouldn't be allowed to use his weapon of choice - the shoulder charge. How lame's that! Other backrowers who'd gain strong support include Kel O'Shea, Norm Provan, Bob McCarthy, Ray Price, Bradley Clyde, Ben Kennedy along with pommie Mal Reilly and kiwi Mark Graham. My props would be Artie Beetson and the Brick with Eyes, Glenn Lazarus. Too big men who possessed the skills set of an inside back. Their main challengers would be Kevin Ryan, Noel Kelly, John O'Neill, Ray Stehr and Shane Webcke with kiwi Roy Asotasi the potential to come into contention. I found the hooker position the most difficult to choose. I mean, how do you split the likes of Danny Buderus, Benny Elias, Steve Walters, Ken Kearney and Ian Walsh? With great difficulty that's how. When push came to shove I settled on Buderus, however anyone of the five would do me fine. My interchange bench comprises Bobby Fulton and Darren Lockyer, because they can cover every position in the backline, along with forwards Kevin Ryan and Steve Walters, for much the same reason. There you go. Name me a team that's superior to that? Such a task must feel a bit like that TV show that made it to the big screen...Mission Impossible!