AAP

Described as one of the game's greatest ever players and also one of its deepest thinkers, rugby league legend Ian Walsh's accomplishments are unparalleled.

Walsh passed away on Thursday aged 80 in his home town of Forbes after a long illness, leaving an incredible legacy in the game he loved.

The St George great had the unique distinction of being the only player to captain-coach his club to a premiership and his country to an Ashes series win - a feat he achieved in 1966.

Born in Bogan Gate, NSW, on March 20, 1933, Walsh represented City, Country, NSW and Australia. He played 25 Tests and 39 tour matches for Australia between 1959 and 1966 and captained Australia in 10 Test matches between 1963 and 1966.

"He was a top class bloke and a top class player," rugby league Immortal Johnny Raper told AAP.

"He was one of the toughest blokes you would ever meet but also one of the most intelligent. Whenever he spoke about the game of rugby league it was worth listening to.

"He is amongst the best to have played the game, no doubt about it.

"He came from a hard place, he was a tough country footballer and he and (Noel) Kelly found a way through those tough English forwards."

Credited with establishing the template for modern-day hookers of intelligent running from dummy-half, Walsh joined St George from the bush in 1962, playing in four winning grand final sides in the club's record run of 11 successive premierships between 1956-66.

He missed the 1964 grand final win with a broken arm.

Australia's Ashes victory in 1966 was the first time an all Australian side had won the rugby league Ashes in England.

"He was a great player and a great man. I toured with him in 1967 and played under him at St George," said Immortal fullback Graeme Langlands.

"It's a sad day for rugby league."

In the centenary of the game in 2008, Walsh was named in the list of Australia's 100 greatest players.

Walsh began his rugby league career in the central west of NSW, playing for Condobolin (1951), Parkes (1952-53), Forbes (1954-55), Eugowra (1956-61) before joining the Dragons in 1962, the club he played all of his 96 premiership games with.

"He was right up there with the best of them," Kangaroos and St George teammate Norm Provan said.

"I had a lot of time for him. When we moved him to prop he excelled there too. It showed the sort of player he was and I really admired him for that."

Walsh also coached Parramatta in 1971-72 and for more than a decade was a forthright and fearless rugby league columnist with The Daily Telegraph.

ARL Commission chairman John Grant said Walsh left his mark on the game.

"Ian Walsh was an absolute legend in our game," Grant said.

"The fact that the victories that he was a part of are still so celebrated today says it all.

"He was a genuine hero to many people on and off the field and he will be sadly missed."

Dragons players will wear black armbands and honour Walsh with a minute's silence at Sunday's game against Newcastle at Jubilee Oval.

St George Illawarra chief executive Peter Doust said: "Ian Walsh has played an incredible part in that history and his contributions will always be respected and remembered.

"It is a sad day for our club and our thoughts are with Ian's family."

Walsh is survived by his widow Margot, daughters Donna and Terri and grandchildren Lilly, Michael, Peter, Andrew and Timothy.