Wally Lewis news leaves NRL world shattered after 'devastating' revelation

The rugby league legend has come forward with a heartbreaking diagnosis that will serve as a huge wake-up call.

Wally Lewis.
Wally Lewis has opened up on his 'probable CTE' diagnosis. Image: Getty

Rugby league legend Wally Lewis has made the devastating revelation that he's been diagnosed with probable CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy). The Brisbane Broncos and Queensland Maroons icon revealed the shattering news on 60 Minutes on Sunday night.

CTE is a debilitating condition that affects the brain and is usually found in people who have suffered repeated head knocks. A form of dementia, CTE can only be properly diagnosed when someone has died.

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But Lewis revealed on Sunday night that leading neurologist Rowena Mobbs had told him she was “90 per cent” certain that he has it. The former Australian Kangaroos captain said he's been experiencing short-term memory loss and couldn't even remember the name of the condition he'd been diagnosed with.

“In one of my first meetings with the doctor, when she asked to repeat simple things – I think she gave me five things, and it might have been something like bus, dog, truck, camera, chair. And she said, ‘Remember those.’ And went over them two or three times,” Lewis said on 60 Minutes.

“A minute later she said, ‘What are the things I asked you to remember?’ And I got two of them. And then sometime later, after that, she said, ‘Do you remember what they were?’ And I think I said ‘bus’. Pride’s a wonderful thing, but there wasn’t much of it around then.

“For a lot of the sport guys, I think a lot of us take on this belief that we’ve got to prove how tough we are. How rugged. And if we put our hands up and seek sympathy, then we're going to be seen as the real cowards of the game. But we’ve got to take it on and admit that the problems are there.”

Dr Mobbs told the program she was seeing more and more CTE in retired athletes - particularly those who have played contact sport where head knocks can be prevalent. “It’s devastating,” she said. “It’s hard to see the players go through it. They’re people I’ve admired and loved growing up, so the last thing I want to do is diagnose them with dementia.”

Wally Lewis alongside Darren Lockyer.
Wally Lewis (R) alongside Darren Lockyer after a State of Origin game in 2022. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

Lewis had an epileptic seizure while on air with Channel 9 in 2006. One year later he underwent surgery to remove a chunk of his brain in order to help control the seizures.

Earlier this year he announced he was stepping away from his role as sports reader on Channel 9 News in Queensland, and has scaled back his commentary work for the network. However he said he wouldn't change a thing about his decorated career.

“I loved the game that I played," he said. "I felt privileged to have played it, and to have been given that chance. When you go out there and you’re wearing the representative jerseys, particularly the one for Australia, you feel ten feet tall and bulletproof. Well, you might think you are. But you’re not.”

NRL world reacts to devastating news about Wally Lewis

The NRL said in a statement to 60 Minutes that it has "some of the most comprehensive head-injury policies and procedures in sport." The league added: "We invest heavily in technology, work closely with other major national and international sporting codes and follow consensus in order to adopt world's best practice.

"Head injury and concussion management has progressed significantly over recent decades and particularly in recent years across all sports, including rugby league. We have and will continue to closely monitor scientifically validated medical data and research in relation to head injuries. The NRL has actively invested in the Retired Professional Rugby League Players Brain Health Study since 2019 and almost 200 retired players have been assessed by the clinic."

Lewis played 301 first grade games in an illustrious career with the Broncos and Gold Coast. He played 38 State of Origin games for Queensland and 34 Test matches for Australia, captaining his country 30 times.

The 63-year-old was inducted into the Australian Rugby League Hall of Fame in 1999 and is a member of rugby league’s ‘Immortals’ club. Fans and commentators were left shattered to hear the news of Lewis' diagnosis, sending their well-wishes on social media.

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