Sam Backo news rocks NRL as rugby league world sends well-wishes

The former Queensland State of Origin forward is in a critical condition in hospital after suffering a heart attack.

Sam Backo, pictured here in action for the Australian Kangaroos in 1990.
Sam Backo in action for the Australian Kangaroos in 1990. (Photo by Getty Images) (Getty Images)

Rugby league great Sam Backo is in a critical condition in hospital in Cairns after suffering a heart attack on Saturday. The 62-year-old's family released a statement on Sunday to share the heartbreaking news.

“Christabel, Sam’s wife and extended family appreciate the support and prayers received for Sam,” the statement read. “Sam had a heart attack yesterday morning and at this stage remains in a critical condition. The family has asked to please respect their privacy at this time.”

BRUTAL: Tim Sheens' confession as Wests Tigers fall to 54-year low

'BIG LOSS': NRL fans react to brutal news about Viliame Kikau

Backo's former State of Origin teammate Colin Scott told Wide World of Sports: "His wife called me and said he is in a bad way. He is a tough man and always had a big heart so hopefully he can get through it - but it is a real shock."

Backo, a formidable front-rower, played 135 first grade games in a 10-year career from 1980 to 1990. He played 115 games for the Canberra Raiders, before a further 20 for the Brisbane Broncos.

Backo played seven State of Origin games for Queensland between 1988 and 1990, and represented Australia in six Test matches. In 1990 he became the first Australian forward to score a try in all three Test matches of an Ashes series against England - a feat that no one else ever matched.

Backo was awarded the Australian Sports Medal in 2000 for his contributions to rugby league, and was named in the Indigenous Team of the Century in 2001 alongside the likes of Arthur Beetson, Gorden Tallis and John Ferguson. In 2004 he was named in the Canberra Raiders' All Indigenous team.

Sam Backo, pictured here at a state funeral for his mother Dr Evelyn Scott in 2017.
Sam Backo speaks at a state funeral for his mother Dr Evelyn Scott in 2017. (AAP Image/Michael Chambers) (AAPIMAGE)

Rugby league rocked by news about Sam Backo

Rugby league fans and commentators took to social media on Sunday to send their well-wishes. "Sending my best wishes to the great Sam Backo. A great player and character of the game," wrote Channel 9 commentator Peter Psaltis.

The Canberra Raiders tweeted: "The thoughts and prayers of the Raiders community are with Sam Backo and his family at this difficult time." Leading journalist David Riccio added: "All strength to big Sam."

Former Broncos and Queensland player Steve Renouf wrote "Cmon big Sammy", while Darryl Brohmann added: "Keep fighting mate."

Sign up to our newsletter and score the biggest sport stories of the week.