Vale – Bill Widders
A proud member of the Men of League Foundation, Bill loved rugby league and the journey it took him on through life. Scroll down to read an article from the Foundation’s latest magazine about Bill’s life.
Bill’s Proud Place in History
Bill Widders is typical of many celebrated bush players – proud but humble about his achievements and thankful that he can still turn to rugby league community for companionship and assistance.
Widders, who the Foundation has recently assisted as he has had to withstand several trips from Armidale to Sydney for cancer treatment, was part of the first indigenous touring side to go overseas when they crossed the ditch to battle the Kiwis way back in 1973.
A crafty halfback, Bill was one of 19 players from New South Wales to make up the squad of 34, with 13 from Queensland and the remaining two hailing from the Northern Territory.
The touring team played nine games in 10 days and won seven of them, something Bill claims is an astonishing feat considering how physically outsized they were. The common thread of that tour was joking among his teammates that some of his opposing Maori halfbacks were bigger than the indigenous side’s forwards.
“They were hard fought games. The New Zealanders were a big bunch,” Bill said.
“We got smashed in the scrums I seem to recall, but we played well as a team and enjoyed playing together.”
The class of 1973’s place in history was finally recognised as they special guests at Suncorp Stadium as part of the 2013 Indigenous All Stars week. Bill said it was one of the proudest moments of his life when the NRL decided to acknowledge the touring side.
“It was a bloody good feeling to be recognised. The NRL flew those in the squad who are still with us all up to Brisbane for a special presentation of a ‘Legends’ guernsey before the representative All-Stars match, there were thousands of people there.”
Bill moved to Sydney in 1974 and played with the Redfern All Blacks’ first premiership winning side, something Bill says will always be a lifelong memory, and for South Sydney’s President’s Cup team.
“Winning the season with the All Blacks was one of my proudest moments when I think back on my time playing rugby league. It was a tough competition and we were all great mates,” Bill said.
Bill was born and bred in Armidale where the Widders name is synonymous with rugby league. He took the field for a local Indigenous side, the Narwan Eels, which enjoyed a long reign of local dominance.
“We would have won five or six premierships in a row I think. We knew how to get the best out of each other’s games and how to gel. They were fun times playing for the Eels,” he said.
Bill was recently diagnosed with stage four esophageal cancer. He has begun travelling to Sydney frequently for his chemotherapy and specialist treatments at St Vincent’s Hospital.
“It has been a challenging few months,” Bill’s wife Nonie said.
“The Men of League Foundation has been very supporting of our situation and has helped us through financial support with things like travel, accommodation and medical expenses, as well as checking in on us to make sure how Bill is doing.
“We appreciate everyone giving a hand and helping us out.”
Rest In Peace, Bill.