Langlands was unaware of sexual assault allegations levelled

Graeme Langlands, with a cigar in his hand and the Ashes Cup full of champagne in the other, relaxes in the dressing room after leading Australia to their 22-18 win in the third Rugby League Test at the SCG. Langlands, who was playing his final Test, scored a try and kicked five goals to take his points tally in Anglo-Australian Test matches to 104. July 20, 1974. (Photo by John Patrick O'Gready/Fairfax Media).
Graeme Langlands, with a cigar in his hand and the Ashes Cup full of champagne in the other, relaxes in the dressing room after leading Australia to their 22-18 win in the third Rugby League Test at the SCG. Langlands, who was playing his final Test, scored a try and kicked five goals to take his points tally in Anglo-Australian Test matches to 104. July 20, 1974. (Photo by John Patrick O'Gready/Fairfax Media).

In the last few months, a roll call of rugby league legends would shuffle into the nursing home in the Sutherland Shire to see how their mate was keeping.

No, not good.

With each visit they realised that Changa was slipping further away. He couldn't recognise the former teammate or opponent sitting at his bedside, trying to make a connection.

As many often do when dementia and Alzheimer's take hold, they quietly vowed that would be their last visit to see Graeme Langlands, arguably the greatest fullback the game has seen.

It's also why many of them are convinced the St George icon died in his sleep over the weekend at the age of 76 unaware of the serious sexual assault allegations levelled at him in November last year.

Langlands was charged with six counts of indecent treatment of a child under 16 on the Gold Coast, which was related to one alleged event in 1982 between the March 25 and June 30.

His lawyers later told a Brisbane court that he was too ill to defend them because he suffered from "advanced dementia".

Now, the allegations just hang in the air; a sad full stop on his muddled life after football.

The Langlands family think otherwise, claiming in a statement released on Sunday: "The family maintains its position that this was an improper prosecution and that the allegations are refutable on the evidence in their possession. The family reserve making further comment to a later time."

Save for the "white boot affair" of the 1975 grand final when he was severely hampered from a painkilling injection that numbed his leg, Langlands rarely put a foot wrong on the field.

Like many sportspeople, though, his life was far less charmed than his career.

On the very first page of Larry Writer's Never Before, Never Again - the book that tells the story of St George's fabled run of 11 consecutive premierships - is a quote from halfback Billy Smith.

"People think we're heroes," Smith said. "But we just think of ourselves as ordinary blokes."

The likes of Johnny Raper, Reg Gasnier and then Langlands and Smith were feted like rockstars in their time. In their pomp, they had the keys to the city and often used them.

But the party ends at some stage and, in life, Langlands struggled like the rest of us slobs on the hill, wrestling family break-ups, financial hardships and then poor health.

He ran pubs, worked in bottle shops and then a bar in Manila in the Philippines in the 1990s. He returned to Sydney in the late 1990s. He became close to the legendary boxing trainer, Johnny Lewis.

They would share coffee each morning, with Langlands storming out if his coffee was too cold or if Lewis had arrived too late after dropping his kids off at school.

"I will say this about him," Lewis said. "He would never talk about what he did on the football field, and he almost seemed embarrassed when someone told him he was a legend or anything along those lines. He was very humble."

Two incidents changed Langlands' life.

In 2008, he fell from the back of ute as part of a motorcade at Suncorp Stadium that honoured members of the team of the century. Those legends in the same vehicle feared he was dead, so heavy was the fall.

He was rushed to hospital in a neck brace and later recovered but friends say his health slowly deteriorated from then on. His doctors also believe concussions suffered during his playing career have played a part.

The second came in 2013 when he was forced to sell his Alexandria home after he was allegedly ripped off by a close friend in a business venture that went sour. Some of his old mates in rugby league were prepared to help him out, but others were not.

Perhaps the saddest chapter in his life was his estrangement from a former partner and their son, Trent, who is a successful personal trainer to some of Sydney's leading sportspeople and celebrities.

He carries his father's nickname but has said on a few occasions that's as far as their association goes.

"I don't know the bloke and never have," Trent told Danny Weidler in the Sun-Herald last year after the sexual assault allegations first surfaced. "It was always just me and mum. For this to happen ??? I just feel for the alleged victims. What I know for a fact, my beautiful mum has given her life to me and I just want her to be OK."

This story Langlands was unaware of sexual assault allegations levelled first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.