Farewell to Porirua’s favourite son
Jerry Collins was farewelled at a packed Te Rauparaha Arena last week, surrounded by residents from the city that was so proud of him, and big names from the rugby world.
Speeches at the public funeral on Wednesday lasted more than three hours and were a combination of childhood tales from family and behind the scenes as a Northern United, Wellington Lions, Hurricanes and All Blacks player.
Common themes were friendship, leadership, respect and love, littered with the occasional sneaky cigarette the Porirua hard man used to enjoy.
Stories that emerged included that Collins was an early candidate for this year’s Dancing with the Stars television programme, how he may have shielded his 3-month-old daughter during the car accident that claimed his and partner Alana’s life and left their baby, Ayla, clinging to life, that he irritated his All Black bosses by not wearing correct sponsors’ kit, and that he shunned the nightclubs in the cities for the rural pubs, where he loved talking to people.
It was as close to a state funeral as you can get in Porirua. Current and former All Blacks attending included Dan Carter, Richie McCaw, Jonah Lomu, Michael Jones, Tana Umaga and several Lions and Hurricanes players.
Alana’s father, Darrell, who travelled to Porirua from Canada with his daughter, Nora, said Collins was a devoted and respectful man who carried baby Ayla around whenever she was awake. He was unaware of his son-inlaw’s status as a sports hero in New Zealand until well after they had met.
‘‘ Alana said, ‘ Don’t ask him about rugby’, so I didn’t. But after they left [from their first encounter, in California] I thought I better check him out on the internet. Wow! In Canada it would be like having [ice hockey legend] Wayne Gretzky over for supper.’’
All Blacks Chris Masoe, Conrad Smith, Tana Umaga and Ma’a Nonu spoke of a fearsome hard man on the field and a joker off it. Nonu used adjectives like ruthless, fearless, brave, courageous and a leader who inspired his peers and set the benchmark for hard-hitting loose forwards.
‘‘I would see the love he had for P-town,’’ Nonu said. ‘‘He never forgot where he came from. He was a mentor, a friend and a loving brother.’’
Brenda Collins talked about her ‘‘momma’s boy’’ brother who had no filter, no fear and would worry about consequences tomorrow.
After the funeral, Porirua mayor Nick Leggett said it was still too early to be talking about the best way to honour Collins in the city. The subject would be raised at a council meeting in the near future, he said, with a report to follow that would look at different options, including suggestions of naming the main stand at Porirua Park after Collins or even the park itself.
The Collins family, Northern United, and Ngati Toa would be consulted, Leggett said.
Clockwise from above: Sonny Bill Williams, in jersey, and Piri Weepu, in woollen hat, were among many All Black stars who attended the funeral. Collins’ casket is brought into Te Rauparaha Arena. The arena was overflowing.
Proud of New Zealand and proud of the All Blacks. Jerry Collins’ grave at Whenua Tapu.
Alana Madill’s father Darrell and sister Nora speak at the funeral.
All Black great Tana Umaga was among the pall-bearers.