Jeff Dickinson-Fox reviews the campaign which saw Melbourne Storm crowned premiers in 2017.
3 days ago
Can't have been an easy task to name the hundred greatest players of rugby league. The iconic Ian Heads, one of the foremost experts on the panel of judges given the responsibility of completing the monumental task, summed it up best when asked his analysis of the elite group, "It (the list of players) is neither right, nor is it wrong, it just is."
And whilst it is going to be a nightmare to rank the players from one to one hundred, selecting these poles apart positions should not cause any king-size headaches or "pearce" you off (credit must go to Billy Birmingham here), especially with the hints that I have so kindly given.
In my opinion, King Wally Lewis reigns supreme as the greatest ever, while an old teammate of his Wayne "Junior" Pearce, is unchallenged as the man at the bottom of the rung. But there's no shame in being the 100th best player ever, gosh I think I came in 38,789,954th and climbing as each new player is graded.
I got to say, I do think Pearce, though a wonderful role model for kids with his wholesome lifestyle, is extremely fortunate to have made the cut. He was an above average player, but if Wally and all the other Immortals along with Immortal-in-waiting Andrew Johns, are tens or near tens, the boy from Balmain is a six or six and a half in comparison.
Pearce was a tireless worker but had limited attacking skills and was shunted into the second row cause he wasn't going to shift champion lock Ray Price from the position he coveted most. See Pricey is an eight and a half to a nine, and has a real shot at getting onto the bench when they name the team of the century. He's on my bench. Junior is no hope. He won't even enter the selectors' minds when they sit down to nut out a side.
Hand on his heart and the humble person that he is, I believe Pearce himself would not fancy his chances at all, but again no shame here, when you consider apart from the mercurial Price, he's up against the likes of Johnny Raper, Ron Coote, Kel O'Shea, Bradley Clyde, Norm Provan and a host of others who were giants of the game. The star quality of players vying for the backrow positions, will be illustrated in those who miss selection.
There will be many, particularly avid New South Wales' supporters, who will have a hostile reaction to my opting for Lewis as the greatest, and that's fair enough, people have a right to be wrong! Just joking.
But what the "anti-King movement" needs to do is sit back, relax and absorb my reasons for choosing Lewis in the number one spot.
He dominated State of Origin like no other, like no group of others. This was an arena that outside of selected periods of international football in past eras, was the toughest test facing any player. Several levels higher than Test matches played during the 1980s when Lewis was at the peak of his powers.
The New South Wales' teams that he dominated have contributed no less than 17 players to the top 100. From 38 appearances for his state, he won an astonishing eight man-of-the-match awards and was probably edged out for several more.
To the day I die, I will always be of the opinion had Lewis signed with Manly in the early eighties, our hatred for the Sea Eagles would have increased six-fold. It's too awful to even contemplate. Thank goodness for the intervention of the late Ron McAuliffe, whose influence kept Lewis in Brisbane.
One important factor which Wally had that no other footballer had was this incredible aura. Something intangible, something synonmous with sporting superstars. You know the Don Bradmans, the Walter Lindrums, the Roger Federers and the Tiger's, Woods not Pearce.
But his aura did land him in trouble. It infuriated former Australian coach Frank Stanton to the point, he punished Lewis by choosing Brett Kenny at five-eight on the 1982 Kangaroo Tour. Magnificent player that Kenny was and he did a mighty job outside clubmate Peter Sterling, Kenny was no Wally Lewis. You will see that when the team of the century is named in April, with Lewis in the number six jumper and surely with the captaincy as well.
And it as a captain that he has no peer whatsoever. The infamous incident in origin with Blues firebrand Mark Geyer was conclusive evidence that as a leader Lewis went to a level of play that I don't think any other player has reached. If they have it was only fleetingly. Lewis was a long term tenant at this lofty height.
He knew it was a pivotal moment in the game. He knwe he had to take a stance. And not only did he drum up enough courage to eyeball an enarged Geyer, he went a step further and amazingly took the dominant position in the face-off. It was sensational theatre.
As the pair strode off the field to the sin-bin, can you imagine the lift Lewis gave his fellow Queenslanders while at the same time deflating Geyer's teammates.
From that point on there was never going to be any other result that a Maroons victory, and that my friend is why Walter James Lewis is rugby league royalty, is the finest player of all time and is someone who will forever hold that mantle...and not just in my opinion.