MAROON TILL HE DIES: Wallangarra boy talks Sunday's origin game, bush footy and his memories of Stanthorpe.
MAROON TILL HE DIES: Wallangarra boy talks Sunday's origin game, bush footy and his memories of Stanthorpe. Nicholas Falconer

State of Origin legend's myth unravelled

His origin story, his state allegiance and his iconic footy history have made Billy Moore the thing of legend.

There's forever been a level of myth and intrigue surrounding his beginnings as a rugby league player.

NSW claimed him, Queensland wanted him.

But for Moore, there was only ever one shade of jersey he wanted to wear.

He's the youngest of four boys - James, Robert, David and Billy - from Wallangarra.

"The oldest was born in Stanthorpe and the other three in Tenterfield," Billy said.

"We lived in the same house, 54 Rayleigh St, which is owned by my cousins now. We were 100 metres on the Queensland side of the border thank God," he said.

His dad worked in the meatworks in Wallangarra and his mum was a school teacher at Wyberba.

"My mum, as a first time teacher, was stationed there and it was a one teacher school - she taught the whole thing.

"My dad and his family used to run the railway siding at Wyberba and he met mum, got married and moved to the big smoke of Wallangarra."

His uncle and his three cousins lived just down the road.

So we all played footy around together. I was the baby of all those cousins and brothers so I was the one who used to get beat up and whinge - but it toughened me up.

"In those days Wallangarra had a rugby league team, the Bulls (prior to the Rams).

"I debuted for the Wallangarra Bulls and played under 9s when I was 5, 6 and 7 years old. We used to play in the Warwick and District competition and then the meatworks shut down.

"It was just too hard for mum and dad to travel up and back to Stanthorpe so we ended up playing in Tenterfield.

"But, my oldest brother (James) did play for Stanthorpe. He played up there until under 18s and then went to university in Brisbane. He played first grade as well."

 

Billy (Willie) Moore pictured in his Year 11 Stanthorpe State High School days. Billy is standing back row, third from the left.
Billy (Willie) Moore pictured in his Year 11 Stanthorpe State High School days. Billy is standing back row, third from the left. Contributed

Billy would end up plying his trade for the Tenterfield Tigers in the old Group 4 competition, before they moved into the Armidale-based competition.

"This is where it gets interesting. What qualified me for Queensland was where you play your first senior game.

"I went to watch my older brother Robert play under 18s for Inglewood/Millmerran, a combined side, against Warwick at Father Ranger Oval.

"I was only 15 at the time. They were short so I actually filled out the sheet and played.

"Wind the clock forward five years and I was having a conversation with the late great Peter Jackson and he asked me where I was from. I said 'Wallangarra, I played this game which qualified me' and he said 'no worries'.

"He rang up Ross Livermore, who was I think the Queensland managing director for rugby league at the time.

"They went and found the form I signed. They rang Greg Thouard and he went and found the form.

"So everyone can thank Greg Thouard and Ross Livermore and Peter Jackson.

That's how the Queenslander call was allowed to give its birth.

 

Prior to all that, through his Tigers connection, Billy was selected to play for a NSW under 17s representative side.

He was in his last year or schooling, at Stanthorpe State High School, where he was a Withers house captain.

For the next few years he busted his guts, training every day at home in Wallangarra.

It wasn't long before some of the country's biggest clubs were noticing him. He was offered contracts from the Brisbane Broncos, Penrith Panthers, Parramatta Eels and North Sydney Bears.

"My mum was my manager and she sent me to North Sydney. I asked several years later why did we go there? Because you think about it and all those other teams were powerhouses.

"She basically said the main reason is she didn't know how good I was. As it worked out she was smart. I played first grade the following season, round two, against Penrith.

"I was the eighth youngest player to ever take the first grade field. I was 17 years, 8 months.

"I played and I weighed 80kg and I ran on, we got a penalty and I ran it up between two blokes called Mark Geyer and Peter Kelly. They knocked me out cold and I truly have the record for the shortest debut."

He made his debut for Queensland in 1992, game two and would go on to play a further 16 origin games.

His first origin try, being on the field of the '94 'miracle try' and winning the clean sweep in 1995 with the Fatty Vautin coached team are the memories that he remembers most fondly.

But some of his best rugby league memories go back much further.

"I won a premiership in under 16s in Tenterfield and I can still remember everyone's name. I struggle to do that, other than the '95 Queensland side.

"Bush footy really resonated with me. The clashes between Tenterfield and Stanthorpe were fearless.

"You had some legendary names like 'Chook' Hendry up against Tony Bates. Tony Herman and Ricky Binge played for both towns. I remember going and watching Mick Hancock play at Sullivan Oval.

"This is the thing I love though - bush football is what brought the towns together. It gave them a meeting point. You'd go about your life, live in your own little world but on a weekend everyone would come together and cheer their town on," he said.

 

Queenslander sign at Wallangarra on the border.
Queenslander sign at Wallangarra on the border. Southern Downs Regional Council

As for that infamous war cry - Queenslander. He said that would live on much longer than Billy Moore ever would.

"I've been all over the world and had people scream Queenslander at me. I was in the colosseum in Rome and my wife got filthy when some people started screaming Queenslander."

He's even got his own sign at the border now (pictured above).

Despite being a NSW-based two club man, Tenterfield and North Sydney, his state allegiance can never be questioned.

"I always say this, it's not where you are born, it's where you belong."

Game two of State of Origin this Sunday will be held in Perth. Billy claims to be a pragmatic traditionalist and has no qualms with the game being held there, so long as there's always a game in Brisbane and Sydney.

"I love tradition but things needs to evolve at some point. I played my first ever AFL game up in the Pilbara region and we had a sportsman's dinner after - not one person in the room knew who the Broncos were or the Rabbitohs but they all knew State of Origin.

"I think Queenslanders and New South Welshmen have to get used to it being the pointy edge of marketing for our game.

"It'll actually be the first time in 12 years I haven't been to the game. My boys are 13 and 10 so it'll be the first time I'll be at home watching it with them. They'll get to see how bad a sport dad is."

Billy co-owns and runs a restaurant in Mooloolaba these days where he's lived for the past 20 years.

Unfortunately he won't make Stanthorpe's 100 years of rugby league dinner on August 3. But he had a message for some of his old friends.

"I couldn't congratulate Stanthorpe more on 100 years of footy and still being a relevant and vital part to the community."

If anyone's wondering, put your house on Queensland to win game two. A little tip from Billy.

Stanthorpe Border Post


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