THE elevation of Wally Lewis to Legend status by the Sports Australia Hall of Fame is a fitting, if slightly overdue, honour for the King of rugby league according to FOGS Executive Chairman Gene Miles.
Lewis was inducted as the 38th Legend of the Sports Australia Hall of Fame at a gala dinner in October, joining names like Don Bradman, Dawn Fraser, Rod Laver, Walter Lindrum, Bart Cummings, Greg Norman and Cathy Freeman in the highest echelon of our national sporting greats.
King Wally, Former Origin Great No.9, becomes just the third rugby league player, behind Reg Gasnier and John Raper, in the distinguished list.
His long-time on-field partner in crime Miles said Lewis was undoubtedly a worthy recipient of the prestigious honour for his services to the game in Queensland.
“It is amazing stuff for Wally to have his name up there alongside the likes of Bradman, Laver, Dawn Fraser and Greg Norman,” Miles said.
“And to be only the third rugby league player to be given Legend status behind Johnny Raper and Reg Gasnier is an amazing achievement.
“To be honest, it is probably a little surprising that it has taken him this long to be recognised like this, considering the impact he had on the game for such a long period of time.
“I am sure he is feeling quite chuffed about it all, being up there with that sort of company.”
During the 1980s and early 1990s, Lewis and Miles were rugby league’s dynamic duo.
Playing for Wynnum-Manly, Combined Brisbane, the Broncos, Queensland and Australia, Lewis and Miles were as deadly a combination as Smith and Wesson for opposition teams.
Miles said it was a joy to be playing in the centres outside of the King.
“I was probably spoilt, because I played the majority of my career outside him, with Wynnum-Manly, the Broncos, Queensland, the old Brisbane Panasonic Cup teams and of course Australia,” Miles said.
“We had a great understanding of each other’s games. All I had to do was put myself in the right position, and it didn’t matter whether you were five metres away from him or 55 metres, he would get the ball to you.
“Nine times out of 10 it would hit you on the chest with that incredible spiral pass that he had.
“His knowledge of the game, his vision and his ability to read what was going to happen was what set him apart.
“We complemented each other very well. All I wanted to do was get the ball in my hands and run through a gap or run over the top of somebody.
“That suited Wally’s game too, because he liked created those opportunities with a bullet pass, a short pass or kicking short or long.”
Lewis’ greatest triumph was in his battle with epilepsy. Among the guests he invited to the induction ceremony were Melbourne doctors Sam Berkovic and Gavin Fabinyi, who supervised the delicate operation to cure Wally of his debilitating seizures.
“That was undoubtedly a huge turning point in Wally’s life, and it is easy to see the change it has made to him as a person now that he doesn’t have to live with those seizures any more,” Miles said.
“He was obviously an incredible player, maybe the best there has ever been. But having the bravery to undergo that operation, come out the other side and embrace life the way he has is probably even more inspiring.”