Young Greg Inglis was beautiful. The way he moved, carried himself, how he burned away from opponents at speed, he was like silky Cronulla Sharks champion Steve Rogers except longer and better and more potent.
All of that pure, languid human movement, it was all just sweet as the nut. Some people, you watch them move, you’re just gone, enamoured. Inglis was one of them. He was a beautiful thing.
And now he is done and done, the great “GI”, this great, rangy fullback and centre-three-quarter; the best of his kind since the Immortal Mal Meninga.
For Inglis in his pomp – and it was a period of upwards of a decade – was a magnificent specimen; so aesthetically pure; athletic; and very, very good. And now he’s retired and it’s like we don’t want to let him go. Not yet, anyway, not at 32, not with surely more of the man to give.
Alas like the great Andrew Johns, and Ricky Stuart and Peter Sterling (and dare one say it Israel Folau) after so many years of high-impact professional sport, the man has no more to give. A great one’s body has said “no mas”. Last couple of years Inglis has had something of the old emu about him, the old croc. As a boy he was lean and fierce. In his dotage he was WG Grace; old knees, old bones. You could see the champion in him. But it’s like Latrell Mitchell imbued his life force, and left the great one spent.
Inglis never lacked force, though, even until the end of times.
In 2018 he set out to win State of Origin for Queensland, on his own. He was the last of the great Maroon cabal – Cronk, Slater, Smith, Thurston. But he couldn’t hold back the blue tide, this erstwhile son of Bowraville. His end game was then, as it is now.
Fox Sports, like many of us, worked out that Inglis was likely to retire yesterday, and thus put together a tasty highlights package together called “Greg Inglis – All the tries”, which sports every one of Inglis’s 149 NRL tries (in 263 games).
There’s a whole other show about his State of Origin tries and the odd leaping bit of kit for Australia. And throughout you can see him burning them on the outside, all high chest and hot feet, tearing away from his opponents like the best greyhound at the Wentworth Park dogs, the outstanding kid at the athletics carnival, burning them down the stretch, beaming all the way.
The man was beautiful. Young and free. And so long and lean and just plain great.
Everyone has Inglis moments.
Mine is when he fended off Steve Turner and Mark Gasnier in Game II of State of Origin 2008. Turner was quick and tough, but Inglis rag-dolled him, ended a rep career. Gasnier was a superb centre-three-quarter; plenty gas, plenty bulk; perhaps the best right centre of his time. And Inglis ran him ragged, made him look like a reserve grader from Corrimal Cougars. It’s the mark of a champion; to make a great player look bad.
Beau Ryan wasn’t a great player but he was a good one. They didn’t get round him often. He recalls a round 18 match at Campbelltown Stadium in 2008, Wests Tigers vs Melbourne Storm.
“It was in the balance until Inglis started trying,” says Ryan. “Then he scored three tries! He set up another. The last one he fended my chest so hard I thought he’d ripped my heart out like that bit in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.”
Ryan forgives himself, however: “I joined the list of people who’ve been fended off by Greg Inglis. It’s a very long list.”
In match reports Storm coach Craig Bellamy declared that Inglis “looked a man among boys”. He was barely 22.
James Maloney remembers a Four Nations Test in 2016 when an England player sledged Inglis and “pissed him off”.
“From then on he was unstoppable,” says Maloney. “On kick-chase he’d rag-doll whoever brought it back. With the ball he pushed blokes off at will. It was always quick play-the-ball. He won it for them. He was a class above.”
Robbie Farah was Inglis’s teammate at South Sydney Rabbitohs and recalls an opposed training session early in 2018. It was Inglis’s first opposed session since his ACL injury. It was expected he would approach it gingerly. Instead, he dominated.
“He’d missed all of pre-season and in his first session back he embarrassed the centre he was up against,” says Farah. “He broke tackles, scored tries, set them up. Everyone just sat back and shook their head. Man’s a freak.”
Alas, like a champion thoroughbred race horse past its best, Inglis has no more to give. After fourteen seasons of professional, high-octane, full-impact pro sport, the man can barely lift an arm above the horizontal. Such are the rigours of rugby league a young man can develop arthritis; own knees like so much gristle.
Indeed if Inglis were a race horse he’d have been out to pasture before now. His owners otherwise would’ve been deemed negligent. Souths did their best to nurse their champion. Yet Father Time has caught Inglis as it catches us all.
For certain, Inglis was prime horse-flesh. He was a champion, the measure of which is a man who dominated his era. The same measure can be made of an “Immortal”; someone who doesn’t only beat his next best but donkey licks them, owns them, owns their era.
Inglis as future Immortal? You could make a case. Meninga was still competing up to age 34 and scored a try in his last game, a triumphant grand final. Inglis won grand finals, Test series and so many Origins. It would be a shame for his last few months to sully his status. Because if Meninga’s in the pantheon, Inglis is knocking on the door.
Because at his best – and he was at his best for over a decade – Greg Inglis didn’t just dominate his peers, he made them look second-rate.
It’s the mark of a champion. And a beautiful thing.