Changa dies at 76

David Lord Columnist

By David Lord, David Lord is a Roar Expert

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    Rest in peace, Graeme 'Changa' Langlands. (AAP Image/Guy Wilmott)

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    It took a nano-second for Bobby Fulton and Artie Beetson to answer the question of who was the greatest rugby league footballer they played with or against?

    Graeme Langlands.

    Changa died yesterday, aged 76, after a long period of living with both dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease.

    Having had the privilege to interview the Immortal many times during his stellar career of 45 Tests, 15 as captain, and 227 games for the mighty Saints during the latter period of their record 11 straight premierships, Changa didn’t deserve to die not being his normal fun-loving self.

    He owned the best sidestep in the business, his hands were faultless, his defence fearless and his goal-kicking solid.

    He could read a game minutes in advance.

    Little wonder Bozo and Artie rated Changa so highly.

    Yet for all his massive talent, Changa was a very humble man, who didn’t set the business world on fire when he hung up his boots.

    In short, Changa did it tough, but never complained.

    The last time I interviewed him was at his rented semi at Alexandra in Sydney, where his dog wanted to be a part of the conversation. The photos and jerseys around his lounge room, and on the wall, were constant reminders of the many thrilling moments when he strutted his stuff on the rugby league grounds of the world.

    Changa loved recalling the fabulous try he scored that was disallowed against the Brits in the 1972 World Cup final at Lyon in France, but not so keen to talk about those infamous white boots he wore in the 1975 NRL grand final at the SCG in the Saints’ 38-nil loss to the Roosters.

    That ‘try’ underlined just how great a rugby league footballer Changa really was.

    Kangaroo half-back Dennis Ward bombed the Brits from 45 metres out, and Changa took off.

    The bomb was perfect, and Changa arrived as the ball was dropping near the try line.

    Changa took off, and the footage showed him parallel with the ground with his hands out-stretched, effortlessly catching the ball as he crashed over for the try.

    French referee Georges Jameau ruled Changa offside, adding post-match that no-one on earth could get to the ball as quickly as he did unless he was offside to begin with.

    He simply didn’t know Changa.

    As for those infamous white boots, I asked Changa did he still have them?

    “No, after a training session in England, I tied the laces together and threw the boots over my shoulder,” he said.

    “The last I saw of them they were straddling the cross-bar.

    “Good riddance.”

    Before dementia and Alzheimers set in, Changa was on the back of a truck that was circling the field in the 2008 World Cup final.

    Changa was one of many legends being paraded, but he was the only one to fall off, injuring himself quite badly that required constant medical attention.

    The NRL should have come to the party financially, but they never did – Changa felt cheated by that attitude.

    Like all those who had the privilege of knowing him, I will remember Changa as one helluva good bloke, and one mighty Immortal whose constant deeds on the rugby league field will never be forgotten.

    David Lord
    David Lord

    David Lord was deeply involved in two of the biggest sporting stories - World Series Cricket in 1977 and professional rugby in 1983. After managing Jeff Thomson and Viv Richards during WSC, in 1983 David signed 208 of the best rugby players from Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales and France to play an international pro circuit. The concept didn't get off the ground, but it did force the IRB to get cracking and bring in the World Rugby Cup, now one of the world's great sporting spectacles

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    The Crowd Says (22)

    • January 22nd 2018 @ 9:51am
      Greg Ambrose said | January 22nd 2018 @ 9:51am | ! Report

      I wonder who Chang regarded as the best player ever?

    • January 22nd 2018 @ 11:08am
      MAX said | January 22nd 2018 @ 11:08am | ! Report

      Changa held his own in a vintage era of champions.

      He executed the impossible, often.

      The pleasure of watching him play lives in the memory bank forever.

      • Columnist

        January 22nd 2018 @ 11:32am
        David Lord said | January 22nd 2018 @ 11:32am | ! Report

        Well said MAX, Changa would shake your hand.

    • January 22nd 2018 @ 11:43am
      sheek said | January 22nd 2018 @ 11:43am | ! Report

      Thanks David,

      A wonderful tribute. Perhaps in a moment of weakness last year I resigned myself that perhaps Billy Slater might have been a smidgen better than Changa Langlands over the past 50 years I’ve watched rugby league.

      I was impressed with Billy’s return from a long injury lay-off to recapture his magical best form. Was I a tad premature in my thoughts?

      There’s not much between them, not much at all. However, Changa captained the Roos & kicked goals, neither of which Billy has done. So maybe I do swing back to Changa?

      And Changa & Billy Smith were often a two-man show at St. George. At least Slater had an extra hombre at Melbourne in both Cooper Cronk & Cameron Smith.

      Anyway, vale Graeme Langlands, rest in eternal peace.

      • Columnist

        January 22nd 2018 @ 1:08pm
        David Lord said | January 22nd 2018 @ 1:08pm | ! Report

        sheek, as usual a top post, but I have a story that you, in particular, will appreciate.

        Cricket legend Alan Davidson was as brilliant a rugby league fullback as a teenager, as he was an all-rounder. He was agonising about which sport he’d concentrate on.

        That was until a zone final when the opposition fullback ran rings around him to score five tries to win the premiership.

        The teenager try-scorer was Clive Churchill so both went onto legend, or Immortal, status.

        I have a couple of decades on you sheek, with Clive the first superstar rugby league footballer I ever saw. I was amazed how superb he was standing a mere 175 cms, and weighing 63 kgs dripping wet.

        Throw Clive Churchill, Graeme Langlands, and Billy Slater into the mix – two Immortals, and an Immortal-in-waiting – and that comparison could provide any amount of spirited debate.

        But they not only played in different eras, but three different tackle counts.

        Clive played from 1947 to 1957 with unlimited tackles throughout his stellar career, while Changa played from 1963 to 1976 with unlimited tackles until 1967, four tackles until 1971, finishing his stellar career with six tackles.

        Billy Slater’s entire stellar career from 2003 to current has been under the six tackle rule.

        sheek, you have struggled comparing Changa and Billy. I would do the same adding the Little Master, because that was exactly what he was – little – but he played with a huge heart.

        But if push turned to shove I’d have to put Changa first, Clive second, and Billy a photo-finish third.

        • January 22nd 2018 @ 4:54pm
          MAX said | January 22nd 2018 @ 4:54pm | ! Report

          David and sheek,

          I have had the good fortune to see all three play and hypothetically if they were all
          in their early twenties and on the open market I would value as follows,

          Changa $2M, Clive $1.8M and Billy $1.75M.

          I dare say TPA’s included therein would not be a problem. Any recruiting director
          would be happy to sign any one of the trio.

          • January 22nd 2018 @ 8:40pm
            sheek said | January 22nd 2018 @ 8:40pm | ! Report

            Thanks Max,

            You pretty much confirm there’s about a split hair between them!

    • January 22nd 2018 @ 2:07pm
      sheek said | January 22nd 2018 @ 2:07pm | ! Report

      David,

      That’s a wonderful story about Alan Davidson & Clive Churchill. I had never heard it before!

      It’s kinda gratifying that you yourself find it difficult to separate Churchill, Langlands & Slater.

      I never saw Churchill play, but my suspicion from what I’ve read & heard, there wasn’t much between them, as indeed with Changa & Billy.

      So to use horse racing parlance we could have a triple dead-heat as in the 1956 Hotham Hcp (now Dalgety) when Ark Royal, Fighting Force & Pandie Sun couldn’t be separated in the photo finish.

      Or at worst, we’re looking at a nose x nose finish. No, make that a nostril x nostril!

      I think you’re the first person I know who saw them both play to put Langlands before Churchill. I think that’s a fair call but no doubt it would generate huge debate among those who saw both those guys play.

      Just as interesting as the debate about Changa & Billy among those of us who saw both of them play.

      Thanks for sharing that story.

    • January 22nd 2018 @ 2:15pm
      Birdy said | January 22nd 2018 @ 2:15pm | ! Report

      I remember John Dorahy played in the U/17s grand final for Wests in Wollongong.
      A fortnight later he played in the first grade GF for Wests.He won it on his own.
      After the game he was asked if he had any Sydney offers. He answered straight back
      ” What’s the use of going to Sydney, Chang’s still rules the roost”.
      Or at least words to that effect.
      Changa was pure gold on a footy field.
      Watching him live you could almost imagine you were watching junior league with that one kid carving them up at will.

    • January 22nd 2018 @ 4:47pm
      Cathar Treize said | January 22nd 2018 @ 4:47pm | ! Report

      Nice write up, thank you

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