Born 2 September 1941. Passed away 21 January 2018.
By Barry Ross
Rugby league lost one of its great players when Graeme Langlands passed away in his sleep at his Sutherland nursing home on Sunday 21 January 2018.
Langlands had been suffering from dementia and other health issues for more than a year.
Graeme was acutely connected to the Men of League Foundation, proud Patron of the Sydney Metro Committee and Foundation member number 1 dating back to 2002.
In recent years, during times of ill health, the Foundation organised wellbeing visits by staff, volunteers and his old teammates to reinforce his connection to the rugby league community.
There was never a shortage of willing visitors keen to rub shoulders and share stories with the rugby league Immortal, renowned for his character.
In 2016 “Changa” was named a finalist amongst the likes of Arthur Beetson, Wally Lewis and Darren Lockyer in the Foundation’s search for the greatest Kangaroos captain of all time, aptly titled ‘The Captains’ Captain’.
Graeme showed his aptitude for the game at an early age. Born in Wollongong, his was an outstanding player as a boy, while attending Wollongong Primary School and from the time he began playing in the under 12s with the Gwynneville club on Saturday mornings.
After primary school, he attended Wollongong Tech School, which is now Keira Boys High. In those days, he continued impressing in the schoolboy junior rep teams, as well as the district age representative sides.
He was selected in first grade for the Wollongong club in the Illawarra competition at 18 years of age for the 1960 season and quickly established himself as a top class, all round player.
Early in the 1962 season, he impressed as fullback for Southern Division in the NSW Country Championship and was selected for Country seconds and then promoted to the Firsts because of injury to the selected fullback, Les Johns.
Country Firsts beat City First 18-8 at the Cricket Ground on 12 May 1962 and after his excellent display in this match, Graeme played his first match for NSW four days later, as fullback, at the old Sports Ground, collecting a try in the 28-8 victory over Queensland.
In July 1962, he was brilliant at the Wollongong Showground for Southern Division in the 18-10 win over the touring Great Britain team.
In 1963, he joined the St. George club and made his debut in round one of the competition at the Sydney Cricket Ground on 6 April against Parramatta, scoring a try in the 51-2 thrashing of the Eels.
He was selected for NSW, this time in the centres, again in 1963 and played at Brisbane in the 20-10 win over Queensland on 16 May. Three weeks later, he made his Test debut for Australia, partnering Reg Gasnier in the centres at the Sydney Cricket Ground in the tight 7-3 win over New Zealand on 8 June.
The last of Graeme’s 45 Tests, 15 of which were as captain, was again at the Cricket Ground in the 1975 World Series in the 10-all draw with England on 28 June. In his amazing career, he played Test football as a fullback, centre and on the wing, while he finished with 206 Test points from 20 tries and 73 goals.
He toured England and France three times with the Kangaroos in 1963, 1967 and 1973, while he also made three tours to New Zealand in 1965, 1969 and 1971, as well as playing in the 1968 and 1972 World Cups and the 1975 World Series. Including his 45 Tests and 45 minor tour games, Graeme represented Australia in 90 matches.
For NSW, he finished with 137 points (19 tries, 40 goals) in 36 games (33 against Queensland, 3 against international teams) and for City Firsts he totalled 79 points (5 tries 32 goals) in eight games (six versus Country and two with international teams). He also played two games for City Seconds in 1963 and 1965 against Country Seconds. His 1,554 points (86 tries, 648 goals) places him on top of the all-time Dragon point scoring list.
Graeme retired in April 1976 after playing 227 first grade matches with St. George, including four winning Grand Finals. From 1970 until he retired, Graeme was captain/coach of St. George and in this period the club won 70 of their 119 games. He also coached NSW and City.
From 1973 to 1975, he was captain/coach of the Australian team, winning 12 of his 16 Tests in this role. In 1980 he coached Port Kembla and also the Illawarra Steelers Presidents Cup side in 1982. A few years later, he did some recruiting work for the Canberra Raiders.
Because of his contribution to rugby league, he was awarded an MBE in 1976, admitted to the Sport Australia Hall of Fame (1986), named as an Immortal (1999), entered the Australian Rugby League Hall of Fame (2002) and in 2008, he was named in the Australian Team of the Century and also as one of the game’s Greatest 100 Players. He is in the NSW Team of the Century and the NSW Country Team of the Century.
During his time at the nursing home, there was a constant stream of rugby league personalities sharing memories and stories from past years with the all-time great. These have included Bob McCarthy (Australian teammate), Johnny Lewis (1986 Kangaroo trainer), John Riley (1959 Kangaroo), Barry Hulbert (former St. George five eighth), Kerry O’Keefe (former Test cricketer), John Grant (NRL Commissioner and 1972 World Cup team-mate), John Brown (Souths), Hal Browne (Balmain), Jim Hall (Canterbury, Easts, Penrith, Souths), Lionel Simmons (St. George, Dapto and Country Firsts), Charlie Kentwell (Port Kembla and Country Firsts), Noel Kelly (Australian team-mate), Steve Edge (St George), Craig Young (Australia and St. George), Tony Brenton (St George and Canterbury) and Chris Bowden (NSW Leagues club).
While Graeme was living at Harbourside Haven at Nelson Bay in 2016, Jim Hall organised a barbecue, which was attended by more than 60 people, many of whom made the long journey up from Sydney.
Graeme’s funeral will be held Monday 29 January at 3pm at the South Chapel, Woronora Cemetery, Sutherland.
The Men of League Foundation extends our sincere condolences to Graeme’s friends and family.