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Legend Q&A: Graham Eadie

NRL.com is bringing back the legendary series of Legend Q&As made famous by Rugby League Week magazine.

We will be reliving the achievements of some past champions, sharing the highs and lows of their brilliant careers.

From the hardmen to the speed merchants, Origin heroes to Kangaroos, modern masters to greats of yesteryear, you can take a trip down memory lane in the Legend Q&A series featuring new interviews plus some classics we've dusted off from the RLW archives.

Here is one we've dusted off from the RLW vault on Graham Eadie, who won four grand finals for Manly in the 1970s and was one of the best fullbacks of any era.

Known as "Wombat", the former Kangaroos fullback reflects on how he got his famous nickname, puts a new spin on the Fibros v Silvertails rivalry and explains why Terry Randall's bravery was the catalyst for the Sea Eagles remarkable 1976 premiership win

Hall of Famer No.77 after being named among the 100 greatest players of the first century of the premiership, he scored 1917 points in 237 games from 1971-1983 and finished his career with three years at English club Halifax. Eadie also played 15 matches for NSW and 20 Tests for Australia.

This article was first published in Rugby League Week in 2014

Graham Eadie

How did the nickname Wombat come about?

We normally had a game of touch before training and at my first session Bozo and Fred Jones were the two captains. Freddo was picking his team, and because I was the last one left he said, 'Get over here Wombat head'. It got cut back to Wombat, and that's what it has been ever since. In England when I played for Halifax, they called me the Yorkshire Wombat. 

You arrived at Manly as a 17-year-old when a legend, Bob Batty, was coming to the end of his career as fullback. Were you daunted?

Ken Arthurson had told me Bob Batty was the rightful custodian. But Arko also told me that Bob, being a true gentleman, had said that if he could find someone suitable to take his place he would retire. At the end of my first year, after I'd played reserve grade and come off the bench in first grade, Bob decided I was good enough to take his place and informed Arko he was hanging his boots up. He was a lovely man and it was a sad time when we lost him.

You knocked back St George when you first came to Manly. Did any other clubs try and pinch you?

North Sydney tried. I think it was payback because we had taken John Gray and Bruce Walker. But when I sat down and weighed up all the fors and againsts, there were too many againsts for me to leave Manly. I always had a high regard for the way Ken Arthurson ran the club.

Did you enjoy the Fibros v Silvertails rivalry?

That was something Roy Masters stirred up. I was good mates with Tommy Raudonikis, and still am. I remember calling into Tommy's place at Blacktown when he had a double story, double brick place with a pool and spa. I was living at Cromer, out the back of Dee Why, in a basic three-bedroom brick veneer home with no pool. I said to him 'Who is the silvertail here?' In those days we'd toss the coin in the middle of the field before we'd swap ends. Once, as we were walking down to change ends Dallas Donnelly put one on Bruce Walker's chin. But we had Steve Knight who was a golden gloves champion and he'd get hold of Dallas and get stuck into him. They were interesting times.

And Tommy took that hatred of Manly to Newtown…?

Did he what! How could you forget that all-in fight (in the 1981 semi-final at the SCG). Newtown centre Mick Ryan came up to me after the game and said, 'Why did you guys start the fight for?' I said it was their guys that started it. But he said, 'No, we were told you blokes were putting a blue on in the first scrum'.  So I asked Max Krilich whether we had started it and he said, 'Yeah. Us forwards and Tom Mooney had a little get together beforehand'. If you look at the video you can see Mooney come from the other side of the field to be one of the first ones in. He knew it was on. Our forwards knew it was on. But the rest of the backs didn't.

Manly played six games in 24 days on the way to winning the 1978 grand final replay. Inspirational times?

The toughness of Terry Randall was a big part of that. He had pain killing  injections to his shoulders, calves and legs just to get on the field. It was an inspiration for all us players to see what he was prepared to do to help his teammates out. It was a travesty when they named the top 100 players of the last century that Terry Randall wasn't in it. Igor was one of the best tackling second-rowers that I ever played with or against.

In the 1976 grand final you saved a certain try when you stopped the Eels 'wedge' move. A strange one?

Parramatta used to come up with plenty of things. They had 'the wall', and with 'the wedge' I saw Ray Higgs with the ball and all the forwards come in behind him as a pack to push him over. But I knew if I got under him he wouldn't get the ball on the ground. I think Ray ended up with a broken jaw in that game, maybe from that incident. I know Terry Randall was right behind me, so anything could have happened.

You went on to replace Graeme Langlands at fullback in the Australian side. I believe you had an interesting conversation with him in Singapore on the way to the 1973 Kangaroo tour?

I was a bit overawed by Chang, because he was such a great player and wonderful person. When we got off the plane in Singapore he took me to a bar to congratulate me on my selection and said, 'You are the same position as I am, but if I am playing better than you then I am in the team. But if you are playing better than me, then you are in.' I thought to myself, 'What a great bloke'. But then he said, 'But I'll tell you one thing. You'd want to be playing a lot better than me, because I am a selector. Now, buy me a drink'.

In  2008 you received retrospective man of the match awards from the league for your performances in the 1976 and 1978 grand finals. What was that like?

After those grand finals I got a Frank Hyde watch, but that was basically it. But the league got a panel of blokes to go back through the old grand finals and award Clive Churchill Medals. Brett Kenny and I were presented with two each at the 2008 grand final when Manly beat Melbourne 40-nil, and we sat together and watched the game. It was Beaver's last game. Brett Kenny hates Manly as much as I hate Parramatta. But with five minutes to go Bert [Kenny] was yelling out, 'get Beaver on the field'. They brought him on with five minutes to go and he scored. Well, Bert was jumping up and down with delight. It was really good to see. I said to him, 'but you hate Manly'. He said, 'I hate Melbourne more'.

You went to Halifax and in 1987 were the first Australian to receive man of the match in a Challenge Cup final, which you won. Why did you go?

Because of Chris Anderson. We were having a chat and he said, 'Have you ever fancied playing in England?' I told him that if I did the reason would be to play at Wembley Stadium. In 1973 we played the first Test there but I never got in the squad. I tried to get on the field after the game but the security guards stopped me. I just wanted to get on the field at Wembley. So Chris said, 'I reckon we can do it, and I need a fullback that can break the line'. They were prepared to let us take the kids, so we went over and gave it a try for 12 months. We won the Challenge Cup and the people were fantastic. It was an unbelievable experience.