Interview with Wally Lewis about his spell at Wakefield in 1983/84 for Thirteen in 2005
Wally Lewis played ten times for Wakefield Trinity in the 1983/84 season having signed on 3rd December 1983. He scored six tries which included a hat trick in a 31-22 defeat of St Helens in the league and two more in a 19-7 first round Challenge Cup win over Halifax. Despite Lewis’s exploits, Wakefield finished third from last that season. But, more than anything, his stint at the club is remembered more for the fact that he drove a notoriously hard bargain with the club and managed to secure himself a £1,000-per-game deal, which didn’t go down too well with some of his teammates…
Lewis went on to enjoy a dream 12 months in 1984, and was awarded the first-ever Golden Boot by Open Rugby for his exploits that year.
Wally, what are your memories of your playing days in England at Wakefield Trinity?
I enjoyed my time there. I certainly enjoyed the association with the club but I could understand some of the problems. It was promoted as a financial windfall for me and understandably a number of the players were shitty or jealous or annoyed that it didn’t promote the club in the correct fashion.
How did the negotiations go?
When the first offer of about £150 a game was made to me I rejected it. When the calls continued I carried on knocking them back. I then thought the only way I’d get rid of them was to suggest a huge amount. So I did and they agreed! Then I said they’d have to bring my brother too and they were okay with that so I thought there’s no getting out of this! In the end I thought it would be okay and I began to look forward to it.
What do you remember of Barry Hough, the benefactor who paid your wages?
He was a wonderful bloke. He probably thought the club didn’t assist him in the correct way though but I had the opportunity to thank him every day because he’d pop into the hotel I was living in.
How did your brother Scott’s career pan out?
After England he continued his first grade career with Wynnum Manly in Brisbane then went to the Broncos but only played reserve grade there for two years. He went back to Brisbane club football but experienced every footballer’s worst nightmare and did his cruciate ligaments and that was the end of the footy for him.
There are some great comments about the game at Whitehaven in your first book, “The King.”
(laughs…)Oh mate…we’d got off the bus and had to walk for about half a mile in the freezing cold with the other guys calling me a whinging Aussie prick! I remember a big crowd and thought that was great but before we started most went home! Apparently they’d been for the whippets! “They’ve all shot through and gone home” I was told. I remember my studs cracking on the solidified mud and thinking they’d call it off and there were suggestions we’d come back on the Tuesday night and I said “you blokes are kidding! We’ve been on the bus for ages. It’ll be just as tough and just as cold on Tuesday. Let’s just get the damned thing played! They were hard bastards to play against!”
You got engaged in Wakefield didn’t you?
Yeah I did. It was on Christmas Day and it was another reason to look back on my time in Wakefield with fond memories.
What do you remember of the other players?
Colin Maskill was one who stood out. He was the Great Britain Under-19 hooker and had a lot of talent. Masky came over to stay with me for a while and he certainly did have some skills. He could have gone a lot further in the game than he actually did.
There is a well-known anecdote of a bloke sledging you because of what you earned and your response. What exactly happened?
(laughs…)Yeah! When I went on the field he gave me a backhander. As soon as I walked on the bloody field! (Lewis attempts an English accent…) “How are you feeling thousand pounds a match man?!” I just thought “Jeez…!” Then he said it during the game but we were losing so I wasn’t really in a position to be cheeky back. Late on he got me across the nose and said it again so I thought “f**k this!” and went, “about £900 better off than you, you pommy bastard!” Later in the bar he bought me a pint and we laughed it off.
What did you think of the difference in standards compared to what you were used to?
Well I was living above Brian Briggs’s pub and we did a lot of drinking. It wasn’t the best preparation I suppose! I remember training being a game of touch and a couple of laps around the field. We played Peter Sterling’s Hull and dominated for 65 minutes but we fell away and they scored three or four tries in the last ten minutes. Our lack of fitness stood out like dogs’ balls. I said to Scott that we should do something about it because the fitness wasn’t there. So I persuaded the coach to let me do a skills and fitness session but half way through, with players’ faces reddening, they complained, “tell this bastard he’s not in charge!” So the coach took over again!
The one thing that really stood out was that in Australia the players with jobs, some in the media, would get understanding from their employers. But in Wakefield they’d come straight out of the mines. They’d have shit all over their faces and go straight onto the football field. For some of those kids it was tough stuff.