Written by TONY ADAMS, May 22, 2016
LARRY Cowora MBE is a rugby league icon – one of the most famous Indigenous players of all time. But the man known as “The Black Flash” has had his heart broken by the game he loves.
A tireless worker for the code in the bush and junior footy for many years, Corowa has been forgotten by rugby league and now lives on the dole, near the poverty line, in obscurity in the Queensland town of Bundaberg.
“Mate, I’m doing it tough, to be honest, and I feel like the game has abandoned me,” Corowa says.
“I’ve got some grown-up kids but I also have a five-year-old and a wife to support – it’s not easy on Centrelink payments. I’m trying to get an earn but I’m 58 and rugby league was my life. I don’t have any other great skills to fall back on.
“I was quiet about it for a few years but I’m speaking out now. I’m angry – the people who run the game have changed and seem to have forgotten the traditions and the people who dug the well.
“To me, it’s very disrespectful.”
Bursting onto the scene with Balmain with 24 tries in 21 matches during his rookie season in 1978, the flying winger was one of rugby league’s highest-profile players and was at one stage marketed as the face of the game.
Corowa played two Tests for Australia in 1979 and toured Great Britain and France with the 1978 Kangaroos. He had songs written about him, received an MBE from Queen Elizabeth for services to sport and was an Australia Day Ambassador.
His two former clubs – the Titans and Tigers – still battle annually for the Larry Corowa Shield and he remains the only winger to receive a perfect 10 rating by Rugby League Week after bagging four tries against Newtown at Henson Park in 1978.
Corowa worked for the ARL and CRL for many years in promotion and junior development, but noticed a change when the new ARL Commission came in.
“At the Indigenous All Stars game three years ago, they sat me right in the furthest corner of the room with my back to the stage,” Corowa recalls.
“The staff of the NRL who had been there for five minutes all sat in the front row. Again, very disrespectful.
“When John Grant took over the game, he put his own staff in and 90 per cent of them had no rugby league experience.
“The buck stops with him. A bunch of imposters have somehow weaselled their way into running our game. They haven’t looked after grassroots or bush footy and the game in the country is hurting big-time. They’re driving the fans and young players away and that’s why I have decided to speak out. Grant has to go and we have to get someone in there who cares about footy at the grassroots level.
“They probably don’t even know who old guys like me are. They got rid of me and they also got rid of [former Balmain team-mate] Percy Knight, who was doing some great things for Indigenous players.
“I enjoyed working with the young Indigenous kids and getting the message to them that if they worked hard and stayed in school they could achieve their dreams. I loved to see the smile on their faces but all that has been taken away from me and it makes me sad.”
Good on you Larry.
The game is heading in the wrong direction
I agree, Larry can have a very valuable input, into helping / guiding generations to come.
Corporate knobs , need to get out of their offices and see, and appreciate the work that is done by all involved.
A sad reality also of the very narrow employment opportunities available for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders of his generation. Not that a lot has changed.
Many old time league stalwarts throughout north western NSW and north west Qld that nurture a lot of young talent, keeping the game alive, without even the reward of stable employment, which we all generally take for granted.
Larry was one of my favourite players to watch and since then has done a lot for indigenous sport.To see him treated this way is disgraceful.
Sport is like a plant, when you neglect the roots and only concentrate on the flower it will eventually die.People criticize ex players for giving back to the game and when they do are treated very poorly.