When Jerry tried league
The day All Blacks strongman Jerry Collins turned out for the North City Vikings rugby league team in the wind and rain in Wainuiomata will never be forgotten by those who were there.
It’s one of the tales being retold in the wake of Collins’s tragic death in France.
North City Vikings – Porirua Vikings today – senior first coach Solo Luapo recalls the winter’s day in 2008 fondly.
He said Collins, who had signed a big contract with French club Toulon, wanted to play a game of league with two of his cousins before he left New Zealand.
‘‘I had no idea he wanted to, but I came into the changing room [at Wise Park in Wainuiomata] and he was standing there,’’ Luapo said.
‘‘I just said, ‘Sweet’ – this is a famous All Black, after all. I went to the Wainui changing room to check with them and they said, ‘Let him play’. They were excited to be playing against one of their idols.’’
Luapo said the game, played in terrible conditions, drew a paltry crowd, but word of Collins’s appearance spread and the sideline numbers swelled considerably as the match went on.
The Vikings lost 34-30, and one of the Wainuiomata players was sent off for attempting a huge hit on the All Blacks legend, who played in the second row.
‘‘Jerry just laughed about it, and the other guy ended up on his backside,’’ Luapo recalled.
‘‘He played at half-pace for 80 minutes and was just out there, enjoying a run with his cousins and his mates.
‘‘I think he deliberately didn’t want to score a try.’’
After the match, Collins shouted both changing rooms bourbon and colas and gave his boots to one of Luapo’s sons.
Wellington Rugby League fined the Vikings $250 for fielding an unregistered player, but Luapo said Wainuiomata happily paid the fine.
The Vikings went on to win the senior first grade that season.
Luapo said he grew up in the same street as Collins and remembered him going running, with a heavy backpack on, while the rest of the neighbourhood youngsters were horsing about.
Jerry Collins congratulates North City player Adrian Saolele after the Wellington rugby league premier grand final between Norths and Wainuiomata in 2008, the year Collins played a lower-grade game for Norths.