A gi­ant will be re­mem­bered



win­ter’s evening in 2010, in the build-up to the All Blacks’ first home test of the sea­son, I hosted a din­ner for sev­eral peo­ple at my home in Auck­land.

Among the guests were a celebrity chef, an ac­claimed ac­tress, some well-known faces from the worlds of busi­ness and fash­ion – and a re­tired rugby player.

A very fa­mous rugby player. Which is like say­ing the Rolling Stones have a lead singer. A fa­mous lead singer.

Sadly, the fa­mous rugby player is no longer with us, but the name Jonah Lomu will never be for­got­ten. In­cred­i­bly it will be two years this Novem­ber since the Big Man’s un­timely pass­ing shocked not only the rugby world, but the whole planet. Who will ever for­get the Ir­ish

Ex­am­iner’s poignant, bril­liant front page trib­ute, which spoke for us all?

Also at the din­ner that night was film and TV pro­ducer Steven O’Meagher of Desert Road, who was telling me about two projects his com­pany was de­vel­op­ing.

One – The Golden Hour – would be­come the su­perb story of Peter Snell, Murray Hal­berg and Arthur Ly­di­ard, which earned Desert Road an In­ter­na­tional Emmy doc­u­men­tary nom­i­na­tion in 2013, the first Kiwi com­pany to do so.

The other project in­volved my friend Jonah Lomu. Be­cause Steven had per­suaded Jonah that his life story should be made into a fea­ture film. And af­ter some hum­ming and hahing, Jonah had agreed.

I was an early sup­porter of the project for a num­ber of rea­sons.

First, Jonah’s story de­fies any log­i­cal ex­pla­na­tion. It’s no or­di­nary rags to riches tale. A kid raised on a tiny Ton­gan is­land who be­came the ‘face’ of rugby as the game went pro­fes­sional – and be­fore he was 20 – was, all the time and un­known to us, fight­ing a crip­pling, and even­tu­ally lethal kid­ney dis­ease which killed him at the age of 40.

Sec­ondly, un­like box­ing [take your pick], base­ball [ Bull Durham], Amer­i­can foot­ball [ Any Given Sun­day or the TV se­ries Fri­day

Night Lights] there has never been a truly great film or TV se­ries made about rugby – and the only per­son with a life story ap­peal­ing enough for main­stream au­di­ences around the world to have a film about him is Jonah [sorry Richie].

Thirdly, and per­haps most im­por­tantly, we toss around the word ‘hero’ a lit­tle too eas­ily these days. But in Jonah’s case, the word hero doesn’t come close to do­ing his mem­ory jus­tice.

Jonah was a hero to his fam­ily. His Ton­gan com­mu­nity. His mates. To high school teacher Chris Grin­ter who turned his life around at Wesley Col­lege, from street thug to school­boy sport­ing su­per­star.

To my daugh­ter Bex whom he in­spired when she was a teenager with grow­ing pains at our home one evening 20 years ago.

To his many rugby team­mates, and coaches, who would work with him in a 16-year ca­reer that saw him play pro­fes­sion­ally in New Zealand, France, Wales – and 63 times for his beloved All Blacks for whom he scored 37 tries.

What peo­ple don’t know – or don’t fully ap­pre­ci­ate – is that as Jonah achieved all these ex­tra­or­di­nary achieve­ments in rugby all the while he was dy­ing.

Nephrotic syn­drome, the kid­ney dis­ease which ul­ti­mately cost him his life, was first di­ag­nosed in 1995 right be­fore the World Cup when Jonah burst onto the global rugby scene as a colos­sus who cap­tured hearts and minds from ev­ery­where.

The good news for us is that soon we will have a chance to re­mem­ber just how great a player and how brave a man Jonah was, be­cause the film project from 2010 is fi­nally en­ter­ing pro­duc­tion later this year af­ter a long bat­tle over rights was fi­nally set­tled.

Desert Road is pro­duc­ing the film which Steven says is ‘part When We Were

Kings part Fac­ing Ali – and a whole lot of Jonah that peo­ple don’t know’.

Steven told me it’s no coin­ci­dence that Muham­mad Ali is the role model for how he plans to give au­di­ences a fresh take on Jonah, be­cause Ali had lit­er­ally hun­dreds of thou­sands of words writ­ten about him in his prime, as well as count­less sub­se­quent films and doc­u­men­taries.

When it seemed like there was noth­ing more you could say about box­ing’s great­est ever, Kings and Fac­ing Ali proved oth­er­wise.

The same chal­lenge faces a sto­ry­teller con­fronting the Jonah leg­end.

Be­fore his pass­ing in 2015, Jonah had writ­ten an autho­rised bi­og­ra­phy, ap­peared in two sep­a­rate TV do­cos with two of his wives, was the star of This Is

Your Life and par­tic­i­pated in numer­ous rugby doc­u­men­taries [ plus some hi­lar­i­ous com­mer­cials].

But none has fully cap­tured the full achieve­ments of the man or given au­di­ences the de­fin­i­tive story on Jonah Tali Lomu. Desert Road’s film will. Just as the film­mak­ers be­hind the two Ali films found com­pelling fresh in­sight and un­der­stand­ing into the story of a gi­ant of his sport – Desert Road has done the same with Jonah.

Jonah was a hero to his fam­ily. His Ton­gan com­mu­nity. His mates. To high school teacher Chris Grin­ter who turned his life around at Wesley Col­lege, from street thug to school­boy sport­ing su­per­star.’

NEW TAKE The new Jonah movie should have a di er­ent take on the great man’s life.

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