World-class NRL on doorstep
By DAWN COHEN
THE NEXT Wally Lewis could be at Ballina High School, Mario Fenech said yesterday.
The National Rugby League sponsorship manager said the Gold Coast's successful bid to enter the NRL would inspire Northern Rivers' youth by exposing them to world-class rugby league on their doorstep.
Last week, NRL chief David Gallop announced the Gold Coast's victory over the Central Coast and Wellington in becoming the NRL's 16th team in 2007.
"The next Wally Lewis could be a 15-year-old kicking around a football on a school sports field in Ballina right now," Mr Fenech said.
"The Gold Coast win could be the turning point for them."
The 42-year-old was lunching with former Sharks player Andrew Ettingshausen and Queensland full-back legend Gary Belcher, after the trio cycled the Coast Road from Byron Bay to Ballina yesterday in the Harvey Norman Legends of Origin Relay.
The 37-day relay over 3957 kilometres from Cairns to Sydney will end at the State of Origin match in Sydney on June 15. It aims to raise money for the Make-A-Wish foundation, a childrens' charity.
"It's great spending time with the guys in such spectacular surroundings," Mr Fenech said.
"I know these guys well, but we don't get much time together these days."
Relaxed after the three-hour ride, the men signed autographs in Fawcett Park, chatting with fans and fishing folk.
Fenech, a Sydneysider, said he has not ridden for years.
"My first bike as a kid was purple and very cool," he reminisced.
"I live in Coogee, which is a beach-side area, but it is not the same as being in the bush.
"The uphill was hard, but really beautiful."
The relay has already raised more than $200,000 for the children's charity, a Make-A-Wish foundation spokesperson said.
"The modes of transport have been selected to fit with the area concerned.
"The team sailed through the Whitsundays, rode Harley-Davidsons from Surfers Paradise to Tweed Heads, and sometimes they have walked.
"Bicycles seemed to fit for the Byron Bay to Ballina stretch.
"Mal Meninga rode a surfboard for the first time in his life in Noosa. He got straight up."
Former Penrith premiership winner Scott Sat- tler was forced to cancel his participation to attend an urgent meeting on the Gold Coast.
The relay team will be at Mary Gilhooley's Irish Pub and Restaurant, corner Woodlark and Keen streets in Lismore today between 5pm-7pm, auctioning off State of Origin memorabilia to raise money for the foundation.