The Roar
The Roar


Context is all in the King Wally gong

Billy Slater of Queensland. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)
12th July, 2018

Norm Provan wasn’t happy. And not because I’d woken him out of bed while he was on holiday in Greece. No. Rather, it was because an element of the modern game of rugby league displeased him.

And the element was this: the very concept of man of the match.

For Provan, singling out one player as the best was dumb, because that guy couldn’t be the best unless his mates all played a part.

For Provan, captain-coach of one of the greatest club sides there will ever be, everyone had to play their role or you wouldn’t win.

Gee, it was a great old chat.

What happened was, I rang him about one of the grand finals in the 1950s or ’60s, at a time when the great man captain-coached the Dragons.

And I got him out of bed, in Greece! Sorry, Norm Provan.

But he was sweet and we got yakking about footy and how the grand final went, and he was good as gold, talking footy. Nice fellah.

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And then I asked, as one does, who was man of the match in this particular fixture – might’ve been that mud game they took the famous photo. And Mr Provan was… Well, he wasn’t affronted. And he wasn’t unhappy. He just sort of harrumphed in that way the old fellahs do.

“We didn’t have a man of the match or anything like that,” he harrumphed.

“We had a team effort. There was no one bloke that would play so well to win it for you. Doesn’t happen. Blokes can have a great game. But everyone has to play a part or you don’t win. Simple.”

He also didn’t understand the concept of Mad Mondays because he and his teammates were grown-ups and family men, and had jobs they had to work the next day. The concept of playing dress-ups and getting drunk after the grand final never occurred to him.

All of which you’d suggest makes ‘Sticks’ Provan a good font of context and wisdom, and old-timey ‘what the bloody hell are you talking about?’-ness visa-vie the current argument over whether Billy Slater should’ve won the Wally Lewis Medal for best player in State of Origin, after playing two games in a series-losing team.

Billy Slater runs the ball for the Maroons in State of Origin

Billy Slater (AAP Image/Julian Smith)

Because of all the hot takes and apparently genuine outrage over the decision by the three wise men – and can you check out the big brains on Mal Meninga, Darren Lockyer and Laurie Daley – to award the gong to the game’s best ever fullback, the one I haven’t seen a lot of is: who cares?

I don’t give a proverbial. I don’t give two proverbials. The whole argument can proverbial off and proverbial itself.


Sweet Dennis Lillee but a dozen Thai kids were stuck two weeks in a cave underwater.

Donald Trump’s going to have a meeting with Vladimir Putin, who wants him to destroy the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and tell him it was okay to invade Ukraine and annex Crimea.

Football, for our poor old cousin Poms, is not coming home, again.

Surely the world’s a weird enough place without arguing over which of the 40-odd men who pulled on an Origin jumper in 2018 deserves the gong named after the King.

Isn’t it?

Slater played two of the three Origin fixtures in a series lost by Queensland, and tallied – in the 4-3-2-1 voting schema – more points than anyone else. And thus, under the rules of the way these things are adjudicated, he was Wally Lewis Medallist.

All three of the judges must’ve given him four or three in Game 2, in which he had a blinder, and then four or three or two in Wednesday’s game, in which he was merely really bloody good.

And yes, the Blues had some fine campaigners across three games, and you can make an argument for others.


But people appear to have lost their minds.

Billy Slater

Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

Look, the wise men made their call based on the 4-3-2-1 points system, and came up with Slater, who obviously got a large number of votes. They didn’t pluck him out their arse.

They voted on what they saw. And the chips landed as they fell. And the best fullback of his or any other generation impressed the three judges enough.

Others would’ve too. Just that Slater did more, in the two games he was out there, to get the gong. And if you would argue you know more about footy than Mal, Laurie and Locky then you would lose that argument.

And, as I may have mentioned, who gives a stuff?

The Wally Lewis Medal? I wasn’t even sure it wasn’t the one the Maroons have among themselves, which is possibly the Meninga.

The Wally Lewis Medal has been around since 2004. Before that it was the Queenslanders own – I just Googled it.


But here’s the thing – no one could tell you who’s won ‘em.

Indeed, as a wise man once said (it was Fox Sports caller Warren Smith in a Tweet): “It’s a Twitter-era thing, right? Sure, they got the player of the series award wrong, but it’s not the biggest take away from Origin Game 3. It’s not that important. If it was, you could name the award winner in 2004, 2009, 2012 etc without looking it up. But I can’t. Can you?”

No, Warren. I can’t.

Nor can Norm Provan.