FIRE DOUSED | After returning to finals action in 2015, the St George-Illawarra Dragons struggled un...
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Pip died recently. He wasn?t my Granddad by birth but he was the only one I knew, the only one that cared and I miss him. I miss him although I never saw him in the years after Nana left him. After all the enduring family squabbles - after the battle with alcohol robbed him of his family. When he was gone I realised what he meant to me, and I realised it too late. I don?t think I?m alone in that.
I?ve been to other funerals. Some close kin, some distant relatives but none I ever cried at, until now. I didn?t understand why at first. I cared more than I expected. I gave a damn. As happens when you reflect, memories of the good times come flooding back and quash the bad. Weeks on end at Muriwai beach camping in the same spot playing Scrabble, Yahtzee or cards when it rained ? and it rained a lot. We'd go drag netting for Mullet with my large extended family, Pip at the helm, ordering us around and setting up the gutting and cleaning line. The Teenagers scaled, adults filleted and young kids collected the Roe. After that he?d take us all up to Great Uncle Russ?s bach overlooking Maori Bay to cook it all and while the night away.
He made me my first go-cart and it even had brakes. I had my first and last go-cart accident in it after they failed. He also made my paper-run trolley, so I can credit him with having strong legs and bruised shins. We went to the movies often and I vividly remember the then coolness of ?Battletruck? and ?Firefox?.
He did plenty of other things too, but one in particular.
He took me to my first ?real? game of league.
Which is what I realised as I stood looking at Carlaw Park; the state of the once great stadium sadly echoing Pip?s demise and a battered billboard advertising a rodeo that never happened. What used to be mud is now gravel and the battered stands will soon be a ?mixed use environment and the leading city fringe location, offering a unique opportunity for business and residential occupiers?. Fantastic.
It was the 1992 Lion Red Cup final and the Wainuiomata Lions were playing the Northcote Tigers. I cheered for the Wellington team although being a ?shore boy I should have supported Northcote - as Pip did - but he didn?t get upset. The Lions were captained by Ken Laban, had the awesomely named Yogi Rogers and five Lomax brothers. The Tigers had beaten them in a previous final encounter and regional pride was at stake; back when that meant something in New Zealand Rugby League.
We planted our backsides down on the wooden seats and talked and laughed about what was happening. Expecting Northcote to win, we instead watched them get taken apart piece by piece. At halftime we cracked up when the Wainuiomata fans, who had camped under the Northcote goal-line grabbed their huge flags and walked down the length of the field yelling and ?saluting?, fully expecting to do the same for the second half. It was fantastic fun. The end result was never in doubt after being 18-0 up and although by the time the final siren went it was 25-18 it was comprehensive enough. As dulled as the after match atmosphere was, given the amount of fans present on the losing side, we had a great time. We hopped in the Mazda, (he always had one), weathered hands holding on to the wheel, one thumb half as long as the other due to an unfortunate circular saw incident, and he talked about the arrogant Wainuiomata fans with a smile on his face. This above all has stayed with me.
I never stopped to think why I feel for this game. I was excited watching the Clayton Friend inspired Manukau beat a visiting St Helens on TV in ?85. I felt pride watching the Kiwis beat Australia in ?87, hidden in the back of a pub. I had fun when I was running around the field myself. But he set this game in my heart and here it has stayed. I loved it after Pip. I love it because of Pip.