‘Trailblazer’: V’landys leads tributes after death of Lionel Morgan

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Warning: This story contains the name and images of a deceased Indigenous person.

Lionel Morgan, the first Indigenous athlete to represent Australia in any major sport, has been remembered as an inspiration to generations after his death in Brisbane on the weekend. He was 85.

Hailed as a true pioneer having played for the Kangaroos alongside Reg Gasnier, Ken Irvine, John Raper and Norm Provan five years before Indigenous Australians were allowed to vote in Queensland, Morgan’s death has left the rugby league community in mourning.

Morgan played the last of his three internationals in the 1960 World Cup and was recognised in the Indigenous team of the century alongside Arthur Beetson, Laurie Daley and Johnathan Thurston in 2008.

Having forged a long career with Wynnum Manly in the Brisbane Rugby League competition, Morgan played 12 matches for Queensland against NSW in an era before State of Origin, showing his wonderful ability to score with 11 tries.

Modern-day legends such as Steve Renouf have credited Morgan for having a monumental impact on future generations of athletes.

Lionel Morgan gives a French defender short shrift in 1960.Credit: Fairfax

Australian Rugby League Committee chairman Peter V’landys led the tributes for Morgan, whose path helped modern-day superstars like Latrell Mitchell, Cody Walker, Jack Wighton and Selwyn Cobbo celebrate their culture with the annual All-Stars match, one of the biggest occasions on the rugby league calendar.

“Lionel Morgan was a trailblazer,” V’landys said. “Rugby league is incredibly proud of his legacy as the first ever Indigenous athlete to represent Australia in any major code.

“He was selected in the Australian Rugby League’s [Indigenous] team of the century in 2008. It was a fitting reward and left him proudly alongside the likes of Arthur Beetson, Johnathan Thurston and Steve Renouf.

“The Australian Rugby League Commission and everyone across the game will be very saddened by Lionel’s passing, but his legacy will remain forever.

“He was and always will be an inspiration to many of our players.”

A minute’s silence was observed before the Queensland Cup grand final on Sunday for Morgan and former Queensland Rugby League chairman John McDonald.

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