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King's royal approval: Wally backs his Wynnum wonders to muzzle Dogs of War

Wally Lewis played in many talented squads but he reckons the Wynnum Manly club side which won the Brisbane title in 1984 was a virtual Test team.

And they would have beaten the best that Sydney could have tossed up, according to "The King".

"A lot of people will ridicule the idea that we could've beaten the Bulldogs but we had a side that was as hot as any side I've ever played in," Lewis said.

NRL.com has dusted off the Rugby League Week vault for some classic tales, including this feature on Lewis and his Wynnum Manly entertainers of '84. This article first appeared in RLW on September 29, 2016.

A team for a King - Wally backs his Wynnum wonders to muzzle the Dogs of War

The year was 1984 and a team of scintillating Seagulls were lighting up Brisbane rugby league like few before them.

Meanwhile, down in Sydney, the Canterbury juggernaut was powering to the second of its four premierships for the decade.

Two contrasting styles, two celebrated club sides that were virtually unstoppable in their prime. The snarling, ferocious Bulldogs and the free-wheeling, frenetic Seagulls led by the incomparable Wally Lewis.

The 1984 Wynnum Manly Seagulls.
The 1984 Wynnum Manly Seagulls. ©NRL Photos

Even now, more than three decades on, Lewis still marvels at the attacking prowess and fearlessness of a Wynnum side featuring Gene Miles, Greg Dowling and Colin Scott - and he's adamant they would have given the Bulldogs one hell of a scare had the Brisbane and Sydney champions ever clashed.

So revered was Lewis's team that such a showdown was suggested by some north of the Tweed. However, it never eventuated, so we'll settle for a mouth-watering mythical battle for interstate bragging rights.

Wally Lewis enjoyed a magnificent Test career for the Kangaroos. In 1984 alone he won the Brisbane premiership, State of Origin and Australia's series against Great Britain.
Wally Lewis enjoyed a magnificent Test career for the Kangaroos. In 1984 alone he won the Brisbane premiership, State of Origin and Australia's series against Great Britain.

"A lot of people will ridicule the idea that we could've beaten the Bulldogs but we had a side that was as hot as any side I've ever played in," Lewis said.

"It was almost as if we employing a game that no opposition thought we would have the balls to try and pull off. Taking a gamble in pressure situations doesn't pay off for many teams but for this team it did.

"It was as brutal as any team I've seen in employing the attack. These guys were courageous enough to do anything, anywhere, anytime.

"Not to insult other clubs I played for but playing for Wynnum in '84 was just like playing for the Aussie team."

Coming from one of the game's Immortals, a man who wore the green and gold alongside the likes of Meninga, Sterling, Pearce, Kenny and Rogers on the unbeaten Roo tours of 1982 and 1986, that's an almighty rap.

The royal seal of approval from The King himself.

Gene Miles runs amok for Wynnum Manly in 1984.
Gene Miles runs amok for Wynnum Manly in 1984. ©NRL Photos

Lewis had already won a BRL premiership with Valleys in 1979 and when he arrived at Wynnum in '84 he was at the peak of his powers.

With fellow Maroons greats Miles and Dowling by his side, Lewis orchestrated a devastating brand of attacking football that ripped opposition teams apart.

And Lewis is still in awe of their bravado.

"It made playing footy a real thrill," he said. "I watch the highlights of some of those games and I can't believe we used to do that. What we dared to do that made us so impossible to defend against.

"That Wynnum team had as much confidence as any team I ever played in.

"We had Greg Dowling leading the way in the forwards and he was an extraordinary player. GD was a Test prop but we had to move him to the second row because we had so much depth in the forwards.

"We threw the ball around at every opportunity and I remember telling them to settle down at one stage and then thinking, 'Hang on a minute, these blokes don't know what it's like to be careful'.

Colin Scott on the run for Wynnum-Manly in 1984.
Colin Scott on the run for Wynnum-Manly in 1984. ©NRL Photos

"Geno was at his best and he carried the ball around like he was carrying an orange.

"I can recall that grand final in 1984 against Souths on a dusty Lang Park. I made a half-break and a bloke came from behind and took my legs out and as I was falling backwards I flipped it up to Gene and he scored a 70-metre try.

"If I was looking at it now with no experience of playing the game, I'd be thinking, 'Geez, he's a dickhead, that bloke, trying to go on the attack from so far out' but that team was white-hot.

"I regard that team as having as much attacking firepower as any club side I ever saw."

Which brings us to the Bulldogs, one of the most ruthless defensive outfits the game has seen. In their back-to-back grand final wins in 1984-85 they gave up a combined total of 10 points.

If you took them on up the middle you were sat on your backside by Kelly or Folkes or Langmack. If you tried to go around them you met a brick wall in the form of Andrew Farrar or Chris Mortimer.

The 1984 Bulldogs after conquering Parramatta in the grand final.
The 1984 Bulldogs after conquering Parramatta in the grand final. ©NRL Photos

Just as Wynnum coach Des Morris played to his strengths in attack, so too Warren Ryan at Canterbury, who knew he had the muscle up front to belt any team into submission.

"I was a huge Dogs supporter in those days, and being great mates with Steve Mortimer, I often used to say to him what a great game it would've been had we come together," Lewis said.

"They were known as the best defensive unit in the game. They outmuscled and out-thought and out-schemed teams, and that could never be argued, but I always maintain that the 1984 Wynnum side would've had a dead-set chance of beating them.

Full Match Replay: Bulldogs v Eels - Grand Final, 1984

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"I understand that the Sydney premiers were tagged the best team in the world but I think we had a number of players who benefited from their experience playing Origin football in pressure situations and still retained the ability to be able to out-attack an opposition.

"I used to use the long pass a lot and we'd happily go four or five passes wide from our own end of the field. Outside me I had Geno and Brett French, and Terry Butler was an Origin winger and Colin Scott was the Aussie fullback.

"And Warren Green on the other wing was our goal kicker - he was a toe-poker and he never used to miss. Greeny was never going to break the world record for the 100 metres but he was as safe as a bank.

"We'll argue about it forever and most people will suggest we weren't as tough up front but if the Brisbane premiers were ever going to beat the Sydney premiers, that was the time.

"It was a privilege to be part of that side when they wanted to attack and no one could stop them."

Who'd win a virtual grand final?

Wynnum Manly 1984

  1. Colin Scott
  2. Warren Green
  3. Gene Miles
  4. Brett French
  5. Terry Butler
  6. Wally Lewis
  7. Peter Dawes
  8. Gary Coyne
  9. David Green
  10. Terry Kajewski
  11. Mal Green
  12. Greg Dowling
  13. Ian French

Canterbury 1984

  1. Mick Potter
  2. Steve O'Brien
  3. Andrew Farrar
  4. Chris Mortimer
  5. Peter Mortimer
  6. Terry Lamb
  7. Steve Mortimer
  8. Peter Tunks
  9. Mark Bugden
  10. Peter Kelly
  11. Brian Battese
  12. Steve Folkes
  13. Paul Langmack