No matter which club you followed, whether you were from north or south of the border, you couldn’t deny that Peter Wallace was one of the toughest customers in the game.
We already knew the veteran of 240 NRL games suffered a ruptured testicle in a 2008 State of Origin match – and played on. And we already knew he played the 2017 finals for Penrith Panthers with broken ribs.
But it wasn’t until the Penrith skipper announced his retirement on Tuesday, just how determined, just how tough he really is.
Despite the second-placed Panthers flying high, at second on the NRL ladder, Wallace announced his immediate retirement from the game in a career that started in 2005, with the rest of the 2018 season still to run on his contract.
As the tributes flowed, it emerged the nuggety hooker had played for the past two seasons with no anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his knee – an injury that severely restricts lateral movement and stopping and starting, and for which most players are forced to resort to surgery.
Penrith boss Phil Gould outlined on Sydney radio on Tuesday just how traumatic that injury was, and what it said about the toughness of the boy from the Blue Mountains.
In 2014, Wallace ruptured an ACL and was successfully operated on, allowing him to continue an NRL career that was at that time already into its 10th season, Gould said.
Then in mid 2017, Wallace suffered a groin injury that club doctors decided needed closer examination.
“When they went for the X-ray on the groin he [the doctor] said, ‘I’ll just get an X-ray on the knee as well. It’s been a bit puffy lately’,” Gould recounted.
“So they X-rayed his knee and and then they rang to say ‘look we’ve got some bad news, he’s done his ACL’.
“Then the doctor rang back and said ‘Oh, we’ve relooked at this. There’s a bit of calcification there. He did it 12 months ago and he’s been playing without it [the ACL]’.”
Gould explained that Wallace told club management he’d “just play on with it. Don’t tell anyone”.
“So he’s been playing for two seasons without an ACL in his knee and various other injuries as well.”
In an earlier statement Gould said he remembered Wallace playing on for 50 minutes in the game in which he tore the ACL.
“Peter has been battling with injury for several years and has repeatedly played for the club with injuries that would keep the normal man home in bed.
“He is a tremendously tough individual and his leadership has been wonderful for our club.”
Determination forged by humble upbringing
Peter Wallace was raised by a single mother at Blaxland, a small Blue Mountains town about 70 kilometres west of Sydney.
His mother, Dianne, told News Corp in a 2008 interview she raised her son alone, working 40-hour weeks for 23 years to get by, making her boy “an independent young man … he’s always had to take care of himself”.
Wallace has never met his father, who lives in Melbourne, and “doesn’t want to”, she added.
Wallace played rugby union at high school and left after Year 10 to become an apprentice painter with the aim of earning money to help his mother.
He kept playing league at weekends, until Penrith came knocking with an NRL contract in 2005. Wallace played two seasons there until a still murky falling-out that ultimately saw him go to the Brisbane Broncos. He played 139 games for the Broncos over six seasons, forming a successful combination with Darren Lockyer. He then returned in 2014 to the Panthers, where he played another 80 games.
Peter Wallace’s 240 NRL games, 308 points and four State of Origin games may not qualify for him legendary status.
But his toughness in one of the world’s toughest games probably should.