Origin champ reveals his one wish as he battles MND
Gorden Tallis woke last Saturday morning with his stomach growling a deep baritone. It was not an unfamiliar sensation.
The Saturday smell of bacon and egg rolls and sausage sandwiches stirred him from sleep and Tallis, obeying the first law of war that states an army marches on its stomach, rolled out of bed and floated from his house to the park behind his home where kids were playing junior footy.
The bacon and egg roll was going down very nicely and Tallis watched the kids playing footy when, along the sideline, he spotted a familiar shape, which used to cause terror in some parts but very rarely for Tallis, and so he walked over and greeted Carl Webb with one of those big warm hellos he has inside him.
Webb, 39, was at a suburban footy oval in Brisbane because he is back living in the city now.
He followed his children from Cairns to Dalby, where they stayed with his mum Shirley for a while, and now they have moved to Brisbane and that is where he finds himself also, which is comfortable living.
He was behind Gordie's home watching a mate's kids play, out in the sun having something he wants many more of but, now, treasures each individually; a normal day.
The last Gordie heard, Webb was still living at Dalby and everybody who knew about Carl Webb was concerned for him because in March this year he was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease, an awful collection of words that he now fights every day.
Delicacy was never one of Gordie's stronger points and so straight away he asked Webb how his health was and Webb, never much one to speak a lot about himself, answered as simply as he could.
The sound of kids playing footy was in the background, the soundtrack to each of their lives, and all it would have taken last Saturday was a simple photo taken of two men, now in their middle age, and one putting his arm around the other, to understand the greatness of rugby league.
They grew up with it and lived it and everything they have today comes from it.
And now, with his future uncertain, Webb has found himself back in a safe place, being looked after by teammates, and it started like all those kids on the field.
It's what men do, sometimes. Mates do.
Webb is now bringing that same fight to Motor Neurone Disease. When the COVID restrictions ease, he says, he plans to travel to Mexico and South America where, he says, strong work is being done to bring down the disease.
Men of League and Queensland's Former Origin Greats have already come to help, the people from MND Queensland, too.
Webb is discovering you get what you give in this world.
He famously went after NSW prop Luke Bailey in an Origin game, writing his own chapter in the Origin saga, and gave the Maroons something to stand on that night.
He was a feature at the Broncos in his early years and later the Cowboys, carrying an air of menace with him that terrified rivals and emboldened teammates.
Now he has men like Tallis looking out for him, a connection that began with a shared sense of responsibility as the team's enforcers.
"He was a lot like Gordie," says Ben Ikin, who played with both.
"If it turned bad he was someone you wanted in the trenches."
Tallis loves to do Mike Tyson impersonations, a light lisp while repeating a famous Tyson quote.
Webb actually did a very good Tyson impersonation, word perfect, but not only took the sounds of Tyson's but would then turn to the heavy bag and make it physical.
Webb, everybody knew, was a Queensland golden gloves champion as a teenager.
Combine the neat hands, the great balance and unusually quick hand speed, along with a man Ikin says was brutally strong in the gym, and you began to understand the quiet awe that fell over the Broncos when Webb would turn and explode on the heavy bag in the gym.
The only one at the club who could spar with him was the trainer, Mark Burgess, who fought as a heavyweight at the Commonwealth Games in Canada (1994) and Malaysia (1998).
They were fun times that came home last Saturday along the sideline at a junior footy game,
the MND slowly attacking his body but the fight still inside.
"It goes for a bit and then it will plateau and you're right for a while," Webb says.
He is lucky, he says, because some people develop MND in the throat and from there it is a short trip to the brain.
His first symptoms were in his extremities, making it further to travel, but he can feel it in his hands now.
Everybody with MND knows what that means even though nobody quite knows what to say; it means time.
"It's OK, I suppose," he says.
"I'm still quite functional and independent.
"It is progressing. I can feel the progression, I suppose."
It is a fight all his own but Tallis does not want him to do it alone.
Gordie has one of those big generous hearts that keep on giving. His heart was always what separated him as a player, for all they want to celebrate the other stuff.
He gave everything, like Charlie Webb did.
He offered him whatever help he could. He said he would fly Bryan Fletcher and Nathan Hindmarsh to Brisbane, both of whom might today be hearing this for the first time, and make them do a lunch. He is also very good at volunteering others, you see here.
"What can I do for you?" he kept asking Webb.Webb is not a guy to ask but Gordie is the persistent kind.
He thought about those days we too often take for granted when we believe our lives are endless and all the afternoons are sunny, afternoons with old footy mates sitting around a table telling old stories.
The kinds of afternoons filled with laughter.
"Do you reckon we could get everyone together and all go and have a beer one Saturday afternoon?" he asked.
It is all he wanted.
Originally published as Origin champ reveals his one wish as he battles MND