Eales says Suncorp statue a recognition of rugby

by Emma Greenwood

John Eales says his embarrassment at having a statue in his honour outside Brisbane's Suncorp Stadium has been eased only by the recognition for the sport he so loves.

The bronze replica of the former Wallabies captain being lifted in a lineout is the first rugby statue to be erected at the ground most often regarded as the home of rugby league in Queensland.

Eales revealed he knocked back initial offers of the statue but was finally convinced it was an honour not only for him but his sport.

"I think I said no initially, and then the next couple of times as well," he said.

"It's very humbling actually. I don't think anyone in this situation actually feels worthy to have a statue but the way I feel comfortable about it is it's a great recognition for the sport of rugby."

"What was important for me was there's a lineout in it, so they wanted a very specific rugby image, so that was a very important part of it."

John Eales pose with the Reds at the Official unveiling of the John Eales Statue at Suncorp Stadium on February 25, 2019 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

Among Eales' fondest memories of playing at the ground is the 1998 drubbing of England he says ignited the Wallabies' belief they could lift the World Cup the following year.

"There was that very special win against England here in 1998," he said.

"At that point in time it was Australia's biggest ever win, 76-0, it was really incredible day.

"And really, that game, for us, was the start of us believing that we could be a team that could go on and win the World Cup.

"I don't think anyone else necessarily believed it but we started to believe at that time."

Former Wallabies captain John Eales had some good memories in his home stadium. Photo: Getty Images

With Australia to kick off its home Test campaign with a clash against Argentina in Brisbane, Eales hopes it's a fever Michael Cheika's team can catch ahead of this year's World Cup.

"I'm really hopeful that it's going to be a good year," he said.

"I don't think there's ever been a World Cup that people consider to be as open as this World Cup.

"We know that Wales, England and Ireland are going to be incredibly difficult teams to play against in the World Cup, we know how strong New Zealand are, South Africa are very difficult to beat and we also know that Australia can be competitive will all those teams as well.

"Sport is very much about hope and belief, so I know there'll be a lot of people looking forward to the World Cup this year."

And he believes the unity across all levels of rugby in Australia can only help the Wallabies' chances.

"I think there's been a much stronger unity of purpose across high performance right throughout the game, probably more than there has been in 10 or more years from the way that high performance of the sport is working together," he said.

An array of rugby luminaries, politicians, family and media gathered to see Eales unveil the work of sculptor Liam Hardy.



Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said the work was a fitting tribute to a Queensland legend.

"It's a celebration of everything John Eales brought to Queensland and Australia," Palaszczuk said.

"He is the personification of success - humility, pride and decency. He is admired by Wallabies supporters around Australia and rugby supporters around the world."

Rugby Australia boss Raelene Castle said Eales was an "icon" of the sport.

"It is only fitting that he is now forever enshrined here at this iconic venue in his beloved home of Queensland," Castle said.

"The statue is symbolic not only of John's extraordinary career and influence in rugby, but also the game's deep history and connection with the people of Queensland. It represents every rugby player who has taken the field to represent their club, school, town, state, or country."

John Eales of the Reds lines up a conversion during the Super 12 match between the Queensland Reds and the Auckland Blues at Ballymore Stadium 1997, in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Getty Images)

QRU CEO David Hanham said: "This is an important day for Queensland Rugby. We've worked for a number of years with stadium and government stakeholders to ensure rugby is permanently represented at Suncorp Stadium -- where the St.George Queensland Reds play their home games.

"This statue not only celebrates the rugby career of one of Queensland's finest players, but it's also representative of the valuable contribution our volunteers and Rugby fans make every week to ensure Rugby continues to thrive as a sport in this state," Hanham said.