The secret's out: Allan Langer has jetted in for a short holiday and a
starring role in Origin III, writes Steve Crawley.
`Hey coach, why did it take you so long to call?" With those quizzical words
Queensland rugby league legend Allan Langer last week secretly accepted coach
Wayne Bennett's offer to return from England and play halfback in the 2001 State
of Origin decider against the NSW Blues at ANZ Stadium on Sunday.
This is the footballing equivalent of King Richard returning home to England:
``I haven't slept since Benny [Bennett] rang me last Saturday," Langer,
travelling with two training bags and no other luggage, told the Herald last
night. ``For two years not a night has gone by without me dreaming about playing
for the Broncos and Queensland. I want to come back and play good football.
It's a one-off game.
``I watched OriginI at home by myself, and the enthusiasm was great. Game two
they [Queensland] just didn't have the enthusiasm. I just hope I can help out
in game three.
``I haven't been able to tell anyone. Not even my parents. Dad's going to
have a heart attack when he hears the news. I wish the game was tomorrow. A
packed ANZ Stadium, the biggest Origin crowd ever in Brisbane. I just want to
After sending daughter Elizabeth and her boyfriend Ben Ikin off to Brisbane
International Airport last night to collect the little No7 they call Alf,
Bennett and wife Trish sat and reflected on three weeks of planning and hoping,
In the days leading up to OriginII, Queensland were in trouble. Sure, they
had exploded with a surprise win over the Blues in the first game of the 2001
series without injured halves Shaun Berrigan and Ikin. Now, though, rampaging
captain Gordon Tallis was out for the season with a neck injury.
Bennett couldn't sleep. He grabbed the pay-TV remote control, hit the red
button and, bang, there was Langer building a man-of-the-match performance for
battling Warrington against hot-shots Wigan. Still he had no Tallis, but if
things turned pear-shaped in OriginII, at least the brooding coach now had an
abstract plan for the decider.
Firstly, Warrington had to be convinced to grant their star leave, which,
surprisingly, proved a cinch as the club understood how its little big man had
never been given an on-field farewell from Australia befitting a 12-season hero.
Next came the tough bits: convincing Queensland selectors that Langer, who
turns 35 on July30, still had the legs and desire to play Origin; and, finally,
to get the Australian Rugby League, which governs the showcase competition, to
create history by making an English-based player eligible to compete.
One selector in particular proved harder to budge than the NSW front row,
reminding Bennett, who coached Langer from 1987 to '99, that modern Maroons Lote
Tuqiri and Carl Webb were just six years of age and tucked into bed when the
halfback won the first of his three Origin man-of-the-match awards.
The selector budged, though.
So to Sydney and the ARL. Queensland Rugby League chairman John McDonald was
packed off on Wednesday to solve the question of eligibility but under strict
instructions not to release the name of the player, only that he was
English-based and had a clearance from his club. This was, after all, still a
McDonald returned with a smile broader than the Big Pineapple, suggesting the
ARL had thought the player to be Hull's Jason Smith.
So Warrington knew, the Queensland selectors and board of directors knew, the
Bennetts, Ikin, plus Allan and Janine Langer, and yet until yesterday the
secret didn't escape a coup in itself.
The cloak-and-dagger went right down to Langer being booked
London-Singapore-Brisbane under a false name. He told airline crew on QF 521 he
was coming home for a little break. Some holiday.
At 34 years and 336 days, he becomes the third-oldest player to represent at
Origin level, behind Queensland's first captain, Arthur Beetson (35 years, 163
days), in 1980 and NSW winger John Ferguson (34 years, 348 days) in 1989.
What a chapter in Origin lore. At the height of his career a former teammate,
the late Peter Jackson, enthused that Langer had become more than simply a
sporting hero in Queensland. ``He's a craze, like yoyos," Jackson said.
By 1999, though, there were more downs than ups and his form, if not his
star, was fading. Bennett had always said Langer would give the game away the
moment he stopped performing. And so it came to be after a round-seven draw with
the lowly-placed Cowboys in Townsville. Benched without injury for the first
time, the fifth child of a carriage builder on the railways stood up in all his
glory and retired.
Some months later, with the Broncos building a record winning sequence and
path to the 1999 finals, he approached Bennett about a comeback, but the coach
mumbled no. ``Even the Prime Minister has given you a public farewell," Bennett
said. ``There's always England."
Now this: a sell-out crowd at ANZ Stadium for the third and deciding game of
a wonderful 2001 series, an identical situation to Lang Park and Origin III of
July15, 1987, when Queensland won 10-8 with Langer man of the match.
Still, that was then, an age ago, when the No7 everybody said was too small
to make it to the top worked for $200 a week on Ipswich Council. Come Sunday
night Langer will join Wally Lewis on 31 Origin appearances, a record bettered
only by Mal Meninga (32). Even if you are aged just six, stay up for this one.
What a secret.
League round-up Page 27
ORIGIN III: THE TEAMS
Origin III at ANZ Stadium, Brisbane, Sunday 8pm
NSW: Mark Hughes (Newcastle); Adam MacDougall (Newcastle), Ryan Girdler
(Penrith), Matthew Gidley (Newcastle), Jamie Ainscough (St George
Illawarra);Brad Fittler (capt, Sydney), Trent Barrett (St George Illawarra);
Andrew Ryan (Parramatta), Bryan Fletcher (Sydney), Adam Muir (Northern), Jason
Stevens (Sharks), Luke Priddis (Brisbane), Mark O'Meley (Northern).Reserves:
Michael Vella (Parramatta), Matt Adamson (Penrith), Steve Menzies (Northern),
Craig Gower (Penrith).
QUEENSLAND: Darren Lockyer (capt, Brisbane); Lote Tuqiri (Brisbane), Daniel
Wagon (Parramatta), Paul Bowman (North Queensland), Wendell Sailor (Brisbane);
Paul Green (Sydney), Allan Langer (Warrington); Darren Smith (Bulldogs), Petero
Civoniceva (Brisbane), Brad Meyers (Brisbane), John Buttigieg (North
Queensland), John Doyle (North Queensland). Reserves: Chris Walker (Brisbane),
Kevin Campion (Warriors), Carl Webb (Brisbane), Dane Carlaw (Brisbane).
Referee: Bill Harrigan (NSW)
Nickname: Alf. Born: Ipswich, July30, 1966. Position: Halfback. Height:
165cm. Weight: 79kg. Broncos games: 241 (all first grade). Representative
honours: Australia 1988-1994, 1997-1999; State of Origin (Queensland) 1987-1994,
1996, 1998; Tri-Series (Queensland) 1997.State of Origin appearances: 30.State
of Origin points: 37: nine tries, 1 field goal.Captain: Broncos 1992-99;
Queensland 1996-98; Australia 1998.AAP