|Lyons at Australian rugby league centenary celebrations in 2008|
19 October 1961 |
Narrandera, New South Wales
|Height||178 cm (5 ft 10 in)|
|Weight||89 kg (14 st 0 lb)|
|1987–91||New South Wales||6||1||0||0||4|
|1988||Rest of the World||1||0||0||0||0|
|Source: Yesterday's Hero,
and Rugby League Project
Cliff Lyons (born 19 October 1961 in Narrandera, New South Wales ) is an indigenous Australian former international-level rugby league footballer of the 1980s and 90s. A Clive Churchill Medallist and two-time Dally M Medallist, he made 309 first-grade appearances with the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles, winning grand finals with them in 1987 and 1996, and also represented New South Wales and Australia, being part of the successful 1990 Kangaroo tour.
Cliff Lyons, known as Napper or Cliffy to his mates, started his rugby league career playing Lock forward, but was often moved into the Five-eighth role which is where he was considered to be at his best. It was at five-eighth that Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles coach Bob Fulton started playing Lyons on a permanent basis and he quickly became a favourite son at the Sea Eagles who gave him the nickname "God". Lyons success with the Sea Eagles, winning premierships in 1987 and 1996 saw him selected to the Manly Sea Eagles 60th Anniversary Dream Team in 2006. Lyons was named on the bench of the 17 man team.
Lyons was notable for his elusive cross-field runs, creating doubt in the minds of defenders and setting up gaps for support players to run back into. His most potent partnership was with Second-rower Steven Menzies, who was nicknamed, "Jesus" because he ran off the right hand of God.
Lyons was graded as a second rower with the Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks in 1981. He played with the Gundagai Tigers in the Group 9 competition for three seasons, from where he represented Riverina against New Zealand in 1982 and Great Britain in 1984.
Lyons First entered in the NSWRFL Premiership for the first time with the North Sydney Bears midway through 1984, following his Riverina coach Greg Hawick. He made his first grade debut for the Bears in Round 2 of the 1985 NSWRL season, playing Five-eight and contributing a field goal in a 15-10 win over the Illawarra Steelers at the Wollongong Showground. He then played in England in the Australian off-season with stays with Leeds (1985–86) and Sheffield Eagles (1986–87). His small stature saw him targeted by rival forwards, but Lyons was tough enough to stand up for himself and there was no denying his talent at five-eighth.
Lyons moved to Manly ifor the 1986 NSWRL season and quickly became a favourite with the Brookvale Oval crowds, though he mostly played at lock forward in preference to another Bear who had moved to Manly in 1986, former Wallaby Mitchell Cox. Cox fell out of favor with coach Bob Fulton in 1987 and Lyons became the Sea Eagles first choice Five-eight, helping the team to a then club record 12 straight wins during the season, and ultimately an 18-8 victory over the Canberra Raiders in the last ever Grand Final played at the Sydney Cricket Ground. Lyons scored the only try of the first half against the Raiders, but it was his damaging runs that cut holes in the Raiders defense that saw him win the Clive Churchill Medal as man of the match. Following the grand final victory he traveled with Manly to England for the 1987 World Club Challenge against the English RFL champions, Wigan. In front of an official 36,895 fans at Wigan's Central Park (though many in attendance believe the crowd to be closer to 50,000), Wigan stunned the Winfield Cup premiers 8-2 in a try-less game. In his biography "The Strife and Times of Paul Vautin", Manly captain and lock forward Paul "Fatty" Vautin admitted that the Sea Eagles had gone to England with the attitude that they would win easily following the undefeated 1982 and 1986 Kangaroo Tours.
Lyons made his State of Origin debut for New South Wales in Game 2 of 1987 State of Origin series on a wet and muddy Sydney Cricket Ground, taking over as the Blues' five-eighth at the end of the representative career of Brett Kenny and playing opposite the King of Origin football, Australian and Queensland captain Wally Lewis. Lyons also played in 1987's exhibition state of Origin match in Los Angeles.
Despite being born and bred in the country, Lyons made the first of three appearances for City Origin in 1988 in the annual City vs Country Origin game. He appeared in two games of the 1988 State of Origin series, vying for the Blues' five-eighth position with Terry Lamb. At the end of the 1988 NSWRL season, Lyons made his international debut when he was selected on the bench for a Rest of the World team that narrowly lost 30-28 to Great Britain at Headingley in Leeds, England. Joining Lyons in the side were his Manly team mates Dale Shearer (Fullback), Michael O'Connor (Centre) and Noel "Crusher" Cleal (Second-row), as well as fellow Australians Steve Ella (5/8th), Allan Langer (Halfback) and Sam Backo (Prop). Lyons also played for Leeds in the final of the 1988 Yorkshire Cup which they won against Castleford.
Lyons' ability to set up tries for his support players with his unpredictable weaving runs saw him consistently win player awards, culminating in his 'breakthrough' season in 1990, age 29. After winning the coveted Gold 'Dally M' award for Player of the Year in the regular club season he received his call-up to the Australian team on the 1990 Kangaroo Tour of Great Britain and France. Australia lost the first Test 19-14 at Wembley Stadium (the Kangaroos first loss on English soil since 1978), and Lyons was thrust into the second Test side at Old Trafford. He repaid the faith shown in him by his former club coach Fulton by finishing one of the best team tries ever seen in a Test as Australia kept The Ashes alive with 14-10 win over Great Britain. He then produced a solid display in the third Test as Australia retained The Ashes with a resounding 14-0 win at Elland Road. He then went on to play in both winning Tests against France, being named man-of-the-match for the 34-10 second test win at the Stade Gilbert Brutus in Perpignan.
Lyons again played for NSW in the 1991 State of Origin series, but lost his test place to a returning Wally Lewis for the first test of the 1991 Trans-Tasman Test series against New Zealand. At the end of the 1991 season in which Manly finished in 2nd place behind eventual premiers Penrith in the minor round, but bombed out in straight sets in the finals with losses to North Sydney and Canberra, Lyons toured Papua New Guinea and regaining his test spot due to an injury to incumbent 5/8 Peter Jackson. He played in his final two tests for Australia against the Papua New Guinea Kumuls. Lyons scored a try in the first test in Goroka partnering Manly team mate Geoff Toovey in the halves, but was relegated to the bench for the final test against the Kumuls in Port Moresby.
Cliff Lyons was particularly in his element in 'Sevens' competitions, winning the 'Player of the Competition' in 1994 and captaining an Aboriginal 'Dream Team' in the 1996 competition. Despite winning his second Gold 'Dally M' award in 1994, as well as becoming Manly's first Rugby League Week "Player of the Year" since his coach Bob Fulton had won in 1975 (and the clubs last as of 2013), he missed selection for that year's Kangaroo tour at the age of 33 in favour of younger players.
"Lyons was a great player. If they made a highlights reel of all the tries he instigated during his long career it would take you three days to watch it."
Lyons resisted a lucrative offer from the Western Reds to stay with the Sea Eagles in 1995 and went on to play in three consecutive grand finals from 1995–97, winning his second premiership in 1996 with a 20-8 win over St. George. At the end of the 1998 season, in which he was mainly used off the bench, Lyons reluctantly retired after not being offered a contract.
January 1999 found him playing for Warringah in an RU Sevens competition but following the Sea Eagles' disastrous start to the 1999 season, he made a comeback with the club, passing the 300 first grade mark late in the season. He became the oldest player in the NRL at 37 years and 313 days, and also retired with Manlys club record for most first-grade appearances. At the end of the year, he was named Aboriginal Sportsman of the Year (tied with Nicky Winmar) and captained Australian Aborigines in an unofficial 'test' against Papua New Guinea in Cairns.
In the year 2000 Lyons was awarded the Australian Sports Medal for his contribution to Australia's international standing in rugby league. Cut from the newly formed Northern Eagles at year's end, he signed with Umina and captain-coached the Central Coast club in 2001, the year he celebrated his 40th birthday.
Having coached Narraweena to consecutive premierships in the Manly A-Grade competition, Lyons joined moved into the NSW Cup as coach of the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles side just before the 2012 season.
After leading Manly to a 6th place finish in the 2012 NSW Cup season, Lyons was replaced as Manly's NSW Cup coach for the 2013 season by former Sea Eagle Luke Williamson.
|New South Wales||6||1||0||0||4||1987-91|
- Benji Marshall with Glenn Jackson (2011). Benji. Sydney, New South Wales: Hachette Australia. p. 219. ISBN 9780733627873.
- Toohey, Barry (2 February 2011). "Still some bite in old Mad Dog". The Daily Telegraph (Australia: News Limited). Retrieved 2 February 2011.
- Club records at seaeagles.com.au
- Maddox, Gary (2007-07-26). "Lights, camera, scrum feed: league hits the big screen". The Sydney Morning Herald. Fairfax Digital. Retrieved 2009-10-07.
- Walshaw, Nick (22 December 2011). "Geoff Toovey brings Cliffy Lyons in as NSW Cup coach to impart magic to Manly Sea Eagles". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 22 December 2011.
- Whiticker, Alan (2000) From the Bush to Brookvale - the Cliff Lyons story, Gary Allen.
- Cliff Lyons at stateoforigin.com.au
- Cliff Lyons - The Early Seasons at rl1908.com
- Cliff Lyons at yesterdayshero.com.au
- Cliff Lyons at menofleague.com
- Article at vibe.com.au
- Cliffy Lyons at Silvertails.net
- Cliff Lyons stats at rugbyleagueproject.com