The person NSW Blues supporters
have always loved to hate even more than Wally Lewis is Barry Gomersall, the
controversial, and dominant, referee of the first decade of State of Origin. Known as “the Grasshopper”, Gomersall
refereed nine Origin matches between 1982 and his retirement in 1988 – seven of
which were won by Queensland.

Last night, the other Queenslander the
Blues have good reason to hate, Wally Lewis, revealed exclusively on
Nine News in Brisbane that “the Grasshopper” has been diagnosed with
terminal
prostate cancer and has been given just months to live.

In an era in which rugby league had some
genuinely colourful referees, Gomersall was never far from controversy. He was Queensland’s
answer to New South Wales’ “Hollywood” Greg Hartley. Years after he retired, the QRL’s Ross
Livermore caused outrage when he threatened to “bring Gomersall back” after a
dispute with NSW over referees. And he was half serious!

Last night Lewis was generous in his
tributes to his old sparring partner. Blues supporters will deluge me with
emails saying “and so he should have been!”

Gomersall was one referee who could always
have a laugh at his own expense. When asked how it was that the Blues managed
to win two games he refereed, Gomersall’s response left the questioner
dumbfounded – “I must have had a couple of off nights!” was his response.

Given that it is almost 20 years since “the Grasshopper” retired from origin refereeing, it is remarkable that just about
every serious rugby league fan in New South Wales
and Queensland will have heard of him. Most fans would struggle to name three of
the current NRL whistleblowers!

It is indeed ironic that on the day it was
revealed Gomersall has a terminal illness, the debate was raging in rugby
league circles about a “trait” he almost pioneered – keeping out of minor
fights and dust-ups between players, and letting the game flow by awarding as
few penalties as possible.

Even his harshest critics in Blues
territory will today join in wishing him well.

Peter Fray

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