Barry Phillip John Lea
Barry Lea was an exciting winger blessed with both great acceleration and blistering speed who found himself on the end of a Wallaby backline before he had played a single senior game for Queensland.
A proud indigenous man from The Torres Strait whose father ‘Buddy’ was one of the legends of the Battle of Long Tan, Lea first came to notice during his time at Brisbane State High School. Playing in an U13 trial match against The Southport School, Lea scored five sizzling tries. So impressed were the TSS officials that they offered Lea a scholarship to the school. While at TSS Lea starred in both rugby (1st XV 1988-89), cricket (1st XI 1989) and athletics (Open Team 1989). The rugby review of the 1989 TSS season wrote that Lea “without doubt was the team’s star player” and described him as “the finest attacking winger I have ever seen in school football” It surprised few when Lea was the leading try scorer playing for Queensland when they won the Australian Schools National Championship. From there Lea won selection for the 1989 Australian Schools side alongside fellow future Wallabies Tim Kelaher, Marco Caputo, Rod Kafer and Glen Panoho.
In late 1990 Lea was picked up by the Newcastle Knights in the inaugural NSW Rugby League external player draft. He went on to be selected in the Knights’ squad for the Nissan Sevens tournament, one that Newcastle went on to win with a 24-22 defeat of St. George. Unfortunately, the “chase the ball on the fifth tackle” strategy of league didn’t appeal to Lea. He wanted the ball and he wanted to score tries.
Sometime later Lea was found leaning up against the scoreboard during a Souths (Brisbane) training session at ‘Chipsy’ Wood. By the end of the night Lea agreed to join the club and run around outside Wallaby centres Tim Horan and Jason Little. In 1992 Lea had his first taste of international rugby when he played for a Queensland Country of Origin side against Scotland at Toowoomba (L 12-29). That same year he scored a try for Australian U21s in their 10-20 loss to New Zealand U21s at Ballymore. Lea rounded out the season in fine style when he scored one of the Magpies’ seven tries in their 44-10 thumping of University in the ‘A’ grade grand final.
Early in 1993 Lea played for Australia at the Punte Del Este Sevens tournament in Uruguay, ahead of the inaugural world sevens championship in Edinburgh. Coach Bob Dwyer was impressed by Lea’s performances saying, "He was a hit. He has got speed and ability and has ball skills." Despite that Lea’s selection for the Wallaby tour at the end of the year raised a few eyebrows given he was chosen without having played a single match for his state and at the expense of 15-capped 1992 Bledisloe Cup hero Paul Carozza. Nonetheless Lea hit the ground running with a try on debut for Australia in the tour opener against the USA Eagles (W 26-22). A hamstring strain suffered in the win over Canada ‘B’ proved troublesome and when it came to the Tests, the selectors stuck with David Campese, Damian Smith and Alistair Murdoch on the flanks.
In 1994 Lea debuted for Queensland on their tour of Argentina before he made the side for the Super Ten final against Natal. In a game punctuated by severe injuries to both Little and Horan, a Michael Lynagh masterclass and a try from Lea steered the Reds to a famous 21-10 victory. He was then rewarded with selection for the Australian train-on squad ahead of the 1995 Rugby World Cup.
A period away from the game ended when Lea toured Britain with the Emerging Reds in late 1996 however early the following season he sensationally signed with the Canberra Raiders in Super League. Lea returned to rugby in the U.K. when he played the final season of his professional career with Saracens (1988/89). In later life Lea appeared in the Australian feature film Paperback Hero and the television series The Straits.
Represented Australian Schools
Represented Australian U21s
Selected in the Australian U21s squad. Lea played five matches on the Wallaby tour to Canada and France - vs. vs USA Eagles (W 26-22) at Riverside, vs. Canada 'B' at Calgary (W 40-3), vs. a South-West XV at Agen (W 20-19), vs. a South-East Selection XV at Grenoble (W 24-23), and vs. French Barbarians at Clermont-Ferrand (W 43-26)