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Intercolonial contests, first held in 1851, provided an outlet for the at times intense rivalry between Victoria and New South Wales.
With his reputation preceding him, Wills became the bearer of Victoria's hopes of winning its first match against the elder colony.
Australia's first sporting celebrity, Wills fell into obscurity after his death, but has undergone a revival in Australian culture since the 1990s.
Today he is described as an archetypal tragic sports hero and as a symbol of reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.
He failed in an 1876 comeback attempt, by which time he was considered a relic of a bygone era.
After Rugby, Wills represented the Cambridge University Cricket Club in the annual match against Oxford, and played at first-class level for Kent and the Marylebone Cricket Club.
An athletic all-rounder with exceptional bowling skills, he was regarded as one of the finest young cricketers in England.
He befriended local Aborigines, learning their language and customs.
At the age of 14, Wills was sent to England to attend Rugby School, where he became captain of its cricket team, and played an early version of rugby football.