25th anniversary - 'Emperor of Lang Park' retires from State of Origin

"It seemed almost the hand of God, or Wally Lewis, was at work when the ground announcer revealed the King was abdicating his throne", reported the Sydney Morning Herald.

Wally Lewis statue outside Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane. Photo taken by Myles Sinnamon

Twenty-five years ago this month (June 12, 1991), the scene was set for an exciting finish to the State of Origin rugby league series. Over 33,000 fans crammed into Lang Park to watch the Maroons and the Blues (both level on 1 game each) battle it out over the deciding third and final game to clinch the series.

History had not been kind to the Blues as they had not won a match at Lang Park since June 1987. After half-time Queensland led 8-4, but in the second half NSW came back strongly to lead 12-8, before a try from Dale Shearer, converted by Mal Meninga, put the home side back on top 14-12.

Approximately 10 minutes before full-time as the Maroons battled to maintain their lead, an announcement came over the loud speakers that this would be the final State of Origin match for Queensland captain Wally Lewis. The Courier-Mail later reported – “The huge crowd gave the Emperor an emotional farewell. The roar of disbelief was followed by a chant of “Wally! Wally!” which lifted the Queensland side”.

It was a fitting end to King Wally’s Origin career as the Maroons held on for the win. The previous day Lewis had been given the news that his 12 month old daughter was profoundly deaf. “In the situation there was only one decision to make. The family comes first and I’ve got to spend a lot of time with them now” said Lewis after the game. Lewis’ team mates only discovered just before the game commenced. “When Tossa Turner (team manager Dick Turner) told us it was going to Wally’s last match, it gave all of us that extra bit of incentive.” said Maroon’s centre Mal Meninga.

Queenslanders love their rugby league and State Library of Queensland has an extensive collection of photographs, books, magazines and more documenting the history of the game in the Sunshine State. This collection (some of which can be viewed online) can be browse through our One Search catalogue.

Maryborough Rugby League Football team, ca.1912. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg 171392

Gympie Representative Rugby League Team 1929. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg 34969

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