Off the Wall

If you have any doubts how rapidly the years are passing us by, then the reality that Wally Lewis turns 50 today should dispel them.

It seems almost only last week that "The King" was the dominant player in our game - a dominance that in the end transcended state boundaries because of his brilliance and skill over a decade.

He really came to prominence when he played in the first State of Origin match in 1980 - and he went on to represent the Maroons a record 22 straight matches until an injury intervened in 1988. His Origin career ended in 1991.

In the period between 1980 and 1988 the Maroons lost the Origin series just twice! That is the measure of his dominance of the Maroons, and the Origin series in its first decade or so. In that period he was judged man of the match no less than eight times.

His test record was no less impressive. He played in the Kangaroos in 33 tests between 1981 and 1991. He captained the Kangaroos from 1984 until 1981. He was given the prestigious international Golden Boot Award in 1985.

All that said, his career was not without significant controversy. His departure from the Brisbane Broncos divided the Brisbane community, and his inability to pass a fitness test denied him the chance to make a third Kangaroos tour.

His post-football career has been marked by family and personal health difficulties which he has handled publicly with great courage. The revelation that his daughter was born deaf encouraged him to be a forceful advocate for research into ear implants and hearing difficulties in children.

In 2006 he collapsed while hosting the sports segment on Channel Nine news in Brisbane. As a result his own battle with epilepsy became very public and ever since he has been an active proponent for public education campaigns on epilepsy and has also been a major fundraiser for the cause.

The last season saw his on camera role during NRL premiership matches expanded considerably and his triumph over epilepsy has undoubtedly had a positive impact far beyond the rugby league world.

Arguments about where he stands among the greats of the game over the last 101 years are meaningless beyond saying he is widely and rightly acclaimed as the dominant player of State of Origin football.

That in itself is a measure of his influence over the game.

He has served the game well, on and off the field. It is just hard to imagine that not only is he 50 today, it is fully 18 years since he last represented his state and country!

I am sure all rugby league lovers wish Wally a happy 50th today!