Arthur Beetson left an indelible impression on the greats to have worn the Maroons jersey, including Darren Lockyer here in 1998. Copyright: Col Whelan/NRL Photos Credit: NRL Photos Copyright: NRL Photos
Maroons legend Wally Lewis has revealed that a 20-minute conversation with the late Arthur Beetson inspired him to become the greatest figure in State of Origin history as the Queensland Rugby League announced that Beetson's No.11 jersey would be retired for Game One of the 2014 Holden State of Origin Series.
The opening game of this year's Series at Suncorp Stadium on May 28 will be the 100th Origin meeting between Queensland and New South Wales and in honour of the occasion and Beetson's indelible fingerprint on the birth of Origin football the Maroons will not have a player wearing the No.11 jersey.
Having played for New South Wales 17 times in interstate battles prior to 1980, Beetson returned home to Lang Park to lead Queensland to a famous 20-10 victory in the very first Origin encounter after NSW had won the previous two games in 1980 with the use of Queensland-born players to the tune of 35-3 and 17-7.
But beyond his inspirational return to the Maroons jersey, it was a conversation with Lewis 12 months later that gave the young Valleys five-eighth the determination to lead his state in the same manner as his mentor.
"I still remember more so than anything else the day he came up to me and said, 'You're going to be captain' for the 1981 game," Lewis told NRL.com at the launch of the 2014 Series.
"At that stage it was Queensland v New South Wales and it wasn't Origin until Game Three. He just sat me down and spoke to me for about 20 minutes and it kind of made me go from the most nervous young bloke into somebody who probably thought that he'd been given a particular job to do.
"I just kept hanging around him talking to him about captaincy. I was playing at Valleys and I'd had the opportunity to be tutored a bit by Ross Strudwick at Valleys but with Arthur it was kind of a different learning curve that I was on. It was more about the rep stuff. He'd give me just a couple of words of advice, everything was really short and sharp.
"He used to say that whenever you were captain and you give yourself a job don't make it into a 40 or 50-page document, just give yourself two or three points that you want to affect, whether it's at training or in the game. That was probably the most wise advice I ever received."
That original 1980 Origin game was the only one of Lewis's extraordinary 31-game Origin career in which he didn't captain his state and his subsequent eight man of the match awards and eight Series wins were a far cry from the 21-year-old who came into his first Origin camp in awe of big 'Artie'.
"For three kids in particular, me, 'Choppy' (Chris Close) and Mal [Meninga], we were nervous kids that were just bewildered to be in his company and probably hung around him like a bad smell," Lewis recalled.
We followed him everywhere he went. Sitting around having a beer we would listen to every story that he told, sit down and have meals with him, just go everywhere with him. Never go away. And then when we were at training he had this magnetic attraction that all the players wanted to be around him. We were just kids thinking, Should we be here?
"He issued a few words to Mal before he ran onto the field [in 1980], then he went across to Chris Close to have a little pre-match talk and then he came up to me and we later found out that it was exactly the same words that he'd said to all three of us! It still made us feel 10-foot tall and bulletproof."
Even a dyed-in-the-wool New South Welshman watching on TV back home in Sydney was struck by the influence Beetson had in that one and only Origin appearance.
"When I watched Arthur Beetson go out, I was hoping NSW would win but Beetson was just an icon," said Steve Mortimer, who captained NSW to its first Series win in 1985 and had played in NSW teams alongside Beetson in the late 1970s.
"You had Wally Lewis and Mal Meninga, these players who became the greats of our game, and they had Arthur Beetson as their mentor. He was a leader, Queensland won, and they won in '81, '82, '83 and '84 and I was just so blessed that I happened to be the captain in '85 and I would not be talking to you today unless it was for all my teammates, and we were very, very close.
"It's absolutely a great decision [to retire Beetson's jersey]. I benefitted from playing with Arthur Beetson in a NSW jersey before Origin and he was one of the most wonderful people that I've ever met and he's still the best forward I have seen in the game.
"It's so important that the likes of the Wally Lewis', Petero Civonicevas, the Arthur Beetsons, the Graeme Langlands, the Johnny Rapers, it goes on and on, are always remembered and profiled as former players that made the game of rugby league the greatest game of all.
"That's going to be happening now off the field and what a wonderful promotion to be celebrating 100 games of Origin here at Suncorp Stadium."