21 April 2022

New Zealand Rugby League is mourning the passing of Kiwi #346 and former Auckland fullback Roy Moore, who toured Australia in 1952, and Great Britain and France with the 1955-56 Kiwis, representing his country in five Tests.

The Mount Albert goalkicker played four tour matches in Australia in ’52, slotting a total of 20 goals against Newcastle, Central Queensland, Central West Queensland and Toowoomba. Fellow Aucklander – and future New Zealand Team of the Century fullback – Des White occupied the custodian role for the Tests.

The following season, Moore was one of several Aucklanders who guested for the American All-Stars team during their 1953 tour Down Under.

With White unavailable, Moore was called up to the Test team for the two matches against the touring French side in 1955. Moore scored all New Zealand’s points on debut via a try and three goals, but the visitors won the opening Test 19-9 at Carlaw Park. He kicked another two goals as the Kiwis squared the series with an 11-6 victory at the same venue.

Chosen as one of two fullbacks (with Otahuhu’s Dick Haggie) for the Kiwis’ Northern Hemisphere tour later that year, Moore featured in the 25-6 first-Test loss to Great Britain in Manchester. He also played in the second and third Tests against France.

Moore turned out in another 10 tour games in England and France, scoring 47 points from three tries and 19 goals.

A regular at ex-Kiwi reunions in recent years, Moore will be dearly missed by the local rugby league community. NZRL extends its sincere condolences to his family and friends.

 

Not much more than a month after mourning the death of Pasifika trailblazer Olsen Filipaina, rugby league has lost the original Polynesian pioneer ex-Kiwi prop Oscar Danielson, who has passed away in Wollongong aged 83.

Apia-born Danielson, one of New Zealand’s original exports to what was then known as the New South Wales Rugby League premiership, was the first Samoa-born player to play in the competition.

He signed with the Newtown Jets for the 1970 season, the same year fellow Kiwi front rower Bill Noonan started his 196-game Sydney premiership career with Canterbury Bankstown.

Other Kiwis followed soon after, notably Eddie Heatley (North Sydney), Bernie Lowther (Canterbury Bankstown) and Henry Tatana (Canterbury Bankstown), who all commanded interest from Sydney clubs in the wake of the Kiwis’ all-conquering deeds in 1971.

In making the move the players forfeited their chances of playing international rugby league, the signing clubs paying the New Zealand Rugby League a transfer fee for the player.

During those times numerous Kiwis signed to play in the lower grades in Sydney or with New South Wales country or Queensland clubs, among them Ron Ackland, Bruce Castle, Eddie Moore, Jock Butterfield, Bill Snowden, Mel Cooke, Graham Kennedy, Bill Deacon, Bill Burgoyne, Doug Gailey and Robert Orchard.

Danielson made 47 appearances and scored four tries for Newtown from 1970-1972 before becoming player-coach with the Corrimal Cougars in Wollongong in 1973, guiding the club to premiership victory the following year.

A key player for Marist in the 1960s, Danielson played for Auckland and also for New Zealand Māori before making his Test debut as Kiwi #454 in 1967 and going on to represent New Zealand at the 1968 Rugby League World Cup.

Legendary coach Harry Bath brought the ball-playing prop Danielson to Newtown, signing him in an Auckland hotel bar.

31 December 2021

The NZRL community is mourning the loss of one of New Zealand’s best-ever front-rowers, Kiwi #460 Bill Noonan, who has passed away in Sydney, aged 74.

Noonan played three Tests for New Zealand in the late-1960s, but arguably carved out a greater legacy as a trailblazer in Sydney, making 196 first-grade appearances for Canterbury-Bankstown and Newtown from 1970-80 – then a record for a non-Australian.

Noonan played the first of 25 games for Canterbury as an 18-year-old hooker in 1965, featuring in the province’s 19-4 loss to Australia that year and coming in for special praise after matching Newcastle Team of the Century rake Allan Buman in the scrums. He also represented in Canterbury’s 53-6 loss to Great Britain the following season.

Still only 20, Noonan earned a place in the Kiwis’ squad to tour Australia in 1967. He debuted against Riverina and scored tries in matches against Brisbane and Ipswich, before getting his Test spurs as a replacement in the second clash with Australia, a 35-22 loss at Lang Park.

Noonan missed selection for the 1968 World Cup but celebrated in Linwood’s CRL premiership success. After touring NSW with a New Zealand Under-23s side, he was recalled by the national selectors to take on the 1969 Australian tourists. The 15-stone tyro played at prop in the 20-10 series-opening loss and scored a try from the second-row as the Kiwis squared the two-match series with an 18-14 boilover, ending a sequence of 15 Tests without a victory.

It would be Noonan’s last appearance in the black-and-white jersey, however. Following the repealing of the NZRL’s archaic transfer ban, he was one of the first young Kiwi stars to head across the Tasman – and the first major signing by now-legendary Canterbury-Bankstown secretary Peter Moore.

Moore had travelled to New Zealand to lure Canterbury and Test halfback Graeme Cooksley to the club. Cookesley turned Moore down, but ‘Bullfrog’ returned with the signature of a bruising forward entering his prime instead. Canterbury-Bankstown stumped up a $6,000 transfer fee for Noonan, who was subsequently precluded from representing the Kiwis, as per the rules of the day.

But Noonan set about becoming one of the Sydney premiership’s most respected forwards over the ensuing decade, coupling natural toughness, a good turn of pace and handy ball skills with a commitment to physical fitness. He played at least 14 games in each of his 11 seasons in the competition and created history (along with clubmate and former Kiwi teammate Henry Tatana, who came off the bench in the same match) by becoming the first Kiwi to play in a Sydney Grand Final in 1974.

Noonan and the Canterbury-Bankstown pack faced up to an Eastern Suburbs engine-room containing Australian Team of the Century forwards Arthur Beetson and Ron Coote, who inspired Easts to a 19-4 win.

An occasional captain for the Berries, Noonan played in further finals campaigns in 1975-76 and 1978, taking his tally of top-grade games for the club to 161, before accepting a lucrative deal to join the emerging Newtown Jets.

Noonan was set to retire after receiving a reduced offer for 1979 from Canterbury-Bankstown, but businessman and Newtown backer John Singleton stepped in.

“The first thing I said to him was, ‘save your breath John, I am not going to play for Newtown’,” Noonan told Rugby League Week magazine in 2009.

“He told me he’d pay me $15,000 and I signed the next day.

“The money wasn’t the only reason — John was a real go-getter and brought some quality players and a new professionalism to the club.”

Noonan played 35 games in two seasons for the Jets, who were building towards an eventual Grand Final appearance in 1981 under the tutelage of impressive young coach Warren Ryan. He was sent off and suspended for a high shot against his former club in the opening round of 1980 but reclaimed his place in the first-grade pack to play the last 16 games of the season before hanging up the boots.

In a nice piece of symmetry, Noonan’s last game was in his original position of hooker – his first appearance there in the top flight for more than three years – as Newtown upset semi-finalists Western Suburbs 23-20 at Henson Park.

Noonan’s record for the most games in the Australian premiership by a New Zealander was eventually broken by Dane Sorensen in 1988, while his status as a New Zealand rugby league great is secure for perpetuity.

NZRL extends its condolences to Bill’s family and many rugby league friends.

14 September 2021

New Zealand Rugby League is saddened to hear of the passing of Kiwi #424 Ken George who toured with the Kiwis to Australia in 1963.

Ken was a servant of the game and a Kiwis and Auckland representative. He also played with passion for Otahuhu and Manukau throughout his rugby league career.

Our deepest condolences are with the George family during this time.

1963 Kiwis Tour Results

Kiwis Tour – 1st Test: New Zealand 3 LOST v Australia 7 at Sydney Cricket Ground, Sydney, June 8. Details

Kiwis Tour – 2nd Test: New Zealand 16 WON v Australia 13 at Lang Park, Brisbane, June 22. Details

Kiwis Tour – 3rd Test: New Zealand 0 LOST v Australia 14 at Sydney Cricket Ground, Sydney, June 29. Details

25 August 2021

NZRL is saddened to hear of the passing of Daniel William Campbell, Kiwi #561, otherwise known as Danny Campbell.

Danny played a total of 55 matches for Wigan Warriors between 1979-1986 and was part of the New Zealand squad during their 1980 tour of Great Britain and France.

Danny passed away on Sunday 22 August 2021, at his home in Mitimiti, during the New Zealand Level 4 lockdown.

He leaves behind his loving wife Tunisia, his children Jodie, Jojo, Kamira and Raniera and his mokopuna.

30 June 2021

Rugby league has this week lost a precious taonga.

Cathy Friend QSM, the first woman to receive an NZRL Life Membership passed away on Tuesday, June 29

A loved and respected kuia and a stalwart of the game, Cathy’s time in rugby league stretched over seven decades and saw her awarded Life Membership to the Auckland Rugby League, Auckland Māori Rugby League, New Zealand Māori Rugby League and New Zealand Rugby League, becoming the first female inductee of the latter organisation.

A veteran of the Manukau and Otahuhu clubs, Friend started her rugby league career as a teenager working in administration.

She was a driving force behind NZ Maori participation in the 2000 Rugby League World Cup earning the Maori Sports Administrator of the Year.

She has also been awarded a Queen’s Service Medal for her contribution to the game, and in 2017 she became the first-ever kaumātua kuia of the ARL. As of 2019, the award for Auckland’s best female player each year carries her name.  

In more recent years, despite struggles with her health, Cathy remained a valued mentor and sounding board for people across the rugby league landscape and regularly still attended ARL events and club functions.

Much loved wife of the late Ivan Lionel Friend and dearly loved Mother and Mother-in-law of Andrew (Deceased), Carmen and Whetu, Clayton and Joanne, Tony and Gus, Jackie & Neil plus Nana ‘Bubbles’ to many moko.

Bub will be laying in state at Kokako Lodge, 235 Falls Rd, Hunua.

A service for Cathy will be held at the Otahuhu Rugby League Club on Friday 2nd July 2021 at 11am. Then burial at Mangere Lawn Cemetery to follow.”

10 June 2021

New Zealand Rugby League is saddened to hear of the passing of Shane Dowsett Kiwi #495.

The Auckland Rugby League and Otahuhu Leopards legend, Shane Dowsett, spent over 25 years in the game, playing in five Fox Memorial finals and three as captain. He then reached the pinnacle of league success by touring with the Kiwis in 1971, earning his Test debut.

He was renowned for his fierce defence, toughness and lack of fear.

Condolences are with the Dowsett family during this time.

January 16 2021

One-test Kiwis fullback Tony Smith never lost his love of sport despite missing out on a rugby league test jersey and team photograph and being banned from playing rugby union for life.

The retired North Canterbury farmer died last Monday, aged 81, after a short illness.

Smith – aided by his late wife Chris – devoted himself to sport and community affairs in the Waiau district despite being refused reinstatement to rugby union after a short, successful league career.

He played his one and only test for the Kiwis in 1962, kicking a goal in a record 19-0 win over Great Britain at Auckland’s Carlaw Park. But Smith suffered a shoulder injury and missed selection for the second Test.

“Because the players were allowed to keep their jerseys only at the second Test, when the team photo was also taken, Tony missed out on both,’’ New Zealand Rugby League historian John Coffey said.

The Kiwis test proved his last game of rugby league in New Zealand. He married in 1963 and went to farm at Waiau, where the local rugby club’s case to have him reinstated was flatly refused by higher authorities.

Back then, any player deemed to have been a rugby professional was automatically denied a rugby union return.

Smith’s case was in a different league, however, to most code switchers. Some former union players had made a handsome living from playing for big English league clubs – ex-All Black and Empire Games relay bronze medallist Peter Henderson funded a Waikato farm from his Huddersfield tenure.

Smith, however, played domestically and once told a Press reporter that his league expenses scarcely covered his petrol costs to Christchurch from Waikari.

Waiau, where he moved at the age of 23, was 120km from the nearest rugby league competition in Christchurch – too far to drive to practices and games for a busy young farmer.

Former Linwood and Canterbury forward John Flanagan said Smith decided to put a halt to his league career, despite having a potentially long representative tenure ahead of him in an era when the Kiwis won the Courtney Goodwill Trophy as the world’s leading league nation.

“We were at his wedding on May 3, 1963 on the day they announced the Kiwis team to tour Australia. If he had still been playing league, he would have gone on that tour for sure,” Flanagan said.

“In his last two years with Linwood, he was back working on a farm at Waikari, and he used to come in for training on Thursday, play the game and stay over, when he needed to, with the owners of His Lordship’s Hotel, free of charge.

“But when he moved to Waiau, he decided it was too far to drive in.”

Flanagan felt Smith’s rugby union exclusion was “a big loss for them” because his friend would have been a major asset to the 15-man code in Canterbury Country.

“The only rugby he played afterwards was the [Waiau club’s] Married v Singles game.”

Coffey said: “Banned from the only sport played in his area, Tony nevertheless was the lifeblood of the local rugby union club for the next few decades. He could not play again but that did not stop him from coaching junior teams and doing more than anyone to keep the club going, off the field.

“He was held in high regard by his former Linwood and Canterbury team-mates and by those in north Canterbury who knew of his selfless work for a sport which had blacklisted him.”

Smith’s son, Peter, said his father “never showed any bitterness” to rugby union officialdom and simply got on with living a long and happy life.

That included coaching junior rugby teams in Waiau, and a long spell playing and coaching tennis, which became his main sporting outlet.

Anthony Andrew Smith was born in 1939, and grew up in the Waikari district where he was a promising rugby union player, who became a Hurunui representative.

Flanagan said Smith switched to league after being spotted playing union by Neville Atkinson, a Linwood stalwart then living in Waikari.

Aged 19, he was invited to move to Christchurch, where he lived in a boarding house in Stanmore Road, and worked as a drainlayer’s assistant for Linwood captain Bob Pounsford.

“Tony made an impact the first game he played for us,” Flanagan said. “Some of the Papanui guys said, ‘where did he come from’?’’

Smith proved a quick learner in his new code. He helped Linwood share the Canterbury title with Papanui in 1960 and become outright champions the following year.

“He was a reliable last line of defence, a great handler of the ball and an outstanding goalkicker,” said Flanagan, who likened Smith’s skills to those of his Linwood and Canterbury rugby union contemporary Fergie McCormick.

“Pat White – who became a Kiwi with his brother, Jim – was our goalkicker, but he missed a couple of conversions in a game. Tony took over and landed them from everywhere, and kept the job.”

Smith was the top points scorer in the Canterbury competition for two years running.

He once broke in a brand-new pair of boots by kicking nine goals from 11 attempts against Marist – eight from eight in the second half.

“He was a great tackler, and good on attack, as well. He had very strong hips, from working on the farm since he left school,’’ Flanagan said.

Smith made firm friendships with his Linwood teammates, often taking them home to his parents’ Waikari farm for a weekend of hunting and socialising.

“We couldn’t drink at [Waikari’s] Star and Garter because the publican, who must have been on the rugby union, wouldn’t serve us because were only 19 at the time, yet he used to serve Tony when he was playing [rugby] for Waikari,’’ Flanagan said. Undeterred, the Linwood lads switched their custom to the Great Northern Hotel “down the road.’’

After standing out for Linwood, Smith was selected for Canterbury and became a South Island representative in 1960 – only his second season in league – and again in 1962.

He starred in Canterbury’s first Northern Union Cup home victory over Auckland in 1962, kicking four goals in a 16-13 win over an Auckland team featuring 12 Kiwis.

That display helped Smith earn a Kiwis call up for the first test against Great Britain at Carlaw Park. He slotted a goal before suffering an injury, which curtailed his 1962 season.

“He never played rugby league in New Zealand again,” Flanagan said. “But he did play for us when we had an overseas tour to Sydney, where we went to the 1962 grand final between St George and Wests, and then had games against Manly-Waringah, a selection picked from four Wollongong clubs, and the Mittagong District.”

Tim Bond, a standoff half who played alongside Smith for Canterbury, the South Island and the Kiwis, said the fullback deserved a Kiwis jersey and was ” a real, thorough team man”.

“He was the hardest fullback I ever struck. He knocked you backwards, and you always felt it. If you got past Tony Smith, you were lucky. He was such a reliable player; he was really a sportsman who did his best every game. He was really friendly with everyone, a real good fella.”

After rugby league, Smith turned his attention to farming, retiring when he was close to 70 and passing on a property once owned by wife Chris’ family, to his second son, Gary.

Peter Smith said his father and mother were actively involved in the Waiau community, with tennis proving a particular passion for Tony, who was still coaching kids at the Waiau club until he became ill.

“He loved all sports – he liked rugby, and rugby league,” Peter said. “He couldn’t wait for the NRL season to start.”

Anthony Andrew Smith. Born: September 15, 1939. Died: January 11, 2021. Pre-deceased by wife Christine. Survived by sons Gary, Paul and Peter. – Tony Smith (Stuff sports reporter).

The Canterbury Rugby League community is mourning the loss of Bill Whitehead QSM, who passed away on Friday, aged 89. To say the game farewells one of its hardest-working and dedicated servants would almost be to undersell his colossal contribution to rugby league locally and nationally.

Whitehead has been described as the most decorated man in New Zealand rugby league – and as the holder of life memberships with nine different rugby league bodies (and another in Bowls), a Queen’s Service Medal, a Sport Canterbury Lifetime Achievement award and a string of other honours, it’s fairly safe to say there’s no hyperbole in that statement.

Christchurch-based Whitehead, known affectionately as ‘Rugby League Bill’, gave up thousands upon thousands of hours of his own time in over 60 years of service to the game as a manager and administrator, along with some notable cameos as a player and referee.

William Albert Whitehead was born in Reefton in 1931 and lived in the West Coast town of Inangahua until 1947. He was a keen follower of rugby league as a youngster – he revelled in telling the tales of his uncle, Bill Clark, outsprinting All Blacks and Kiwis legend George Nepia to score a try for Inangahua against Canterbury in 1937, and watching a Ray Nuttall-inspired West Coast side defeat the touring Great Britain ‘Indomitables’ in ’46 – but it was a familiar example of bureaucracy from the then-amateur rugby union that permanently pushed him towards the 13-a-side code.

“We didn’t have schoolboy rugby league on the Coast, but I played rugby union in Nelson after we shifted there in 1947,” Whitehead recalled in a 2015 interview.

“I played two years for them in ’47-48, but I ran a professional mile in 1949, and I got given (the equivalent of) two dollars and a ribbon. That made me a ‘professional’, so I couldn’t play rugby union anymore. I had to wait until I moved to Christchurch in 1951 and the following year I played rugby league for Papanui reserves.”

Marist (known as Marist-Western Suburbs from 1968) formed in 1952. Whitehead began a long association with the club soon afterwards, firstly as a player for the reserves side, then as a team manager, vice-president, secretary and – from 1982 to ’85 – president.

He was made a life member of the club in 1981 and became a life member of the New Zealand Marist Rugby League Association in ’97 after holding several high-ranking posts for that organisation.

“I managed the premiers for three years, and in my first year I told Jim Amos, the famous coach, about a player in reserves he should have a look at. Jim said, ‘just make sure you’ve got the jerseys’. So I quickly learned my place,” he laughed.

Whitehead managed one appearance for the club’s premier side – as an emergency replacement in 1965.

“We got to Hornby and we were one player short. (Coach) Father Pearce said, ‘I’ll have to find a pair of boots’; he was going to play himself. I said, ‘I’m ahead of you!’. So I got to play my one and only premier game.

“We got beaten 20-0, and I remember it like it was yesterday. They had three Kiwis in their side – Ian Drayton, John Bray and Brian Langton. I went into the Hornby rooms and said to (Test winger) Langton, ‘you won’t get any tries today’. He said, ‘why not?’, and I said, ‘because I’m marking ya!’”

Whitehead was also the manager or local manager for over 300 teams. He was twice the local manager for Australia, Great Britain and France, and Wales once, during the national sides’ visits to Christchurch, a role he fulfilled for countless touring New Zealand and Australian representative teams. He was local manager for Kiwis sides in 1971, ’77 and ’80, while he managed the Kiwi Schoolboys four times during the 1980s – including on a tour of Australia in ’86.

But his most lasting association was as the local manager for every visiting West Coast team from 1964-89, an enduring and amicable partnership that led to a genuine career highlight in 1987, when he was awarded the Queen’s Service Medal by then-Governor-General Sir Paul Reeves.

“I was on tour in Australia managing the Kiwi Schoolboys side when I got word of that. It’s funny that, because I wrote to the Canterbury Rugby League to thank them for the nomination but I found out later it was the West Coast that nominated me.

“I was chatting away to (Reeves), and he said, ‘another rugby league man’ – he’d just given (a QSM) to Johnny Lloyd, my old mate from Hornby. I said, ‘I wanted to ask you, where do the workers go for a beer after the ceremony? We don’t drink champagne and that kind of stuff. He said, ‘as a matter of fact, neither do I – I usually have a keg out the back, and if you hang back I’ll have one with you.’ So me and Johnny had a couple of beers with Sir Paul Reeves.”

A life membership nod from the New Zealand Rugby League followed in 1998.

“That meant a lot, of course; there was the odd person – mainly from Auckland – that said I didn’t deserve it, but that didn’t worry me a hell of a lot,” he said with a hearty chuckle.

He received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Canterbury Sports Awards in 2019, which Sir Peter Leitch presented Whitehead with during a visit to his Christchurch rest home soon afterwards.

Whitehead had significant involvement with other sports, including his role as the media manager of weightlifting at the 1974 Commonwealth Games, coordinating the Rugby League Night in conjunction with the Canterbury Park Trotting Club for 30 years, and being tournament convenor for the Canterbury Licensed Trade Bowls Club, the latter earning him a 10th life membership.

But his heart lay with rugby league, and Whitehead’s enormous contribution to the code at junior levels brought him just as much pride and enjoyment as rubbing shoulders with some of the game’s greats.

Among many, many stories of his tireless efforts was the time when he organised raffles and sponsors (including Air New Zealand) to get a Canterbury 8-year-old side to Auckland, where they played against Ellerslie and Mt Albert.

He also displayed a sharp eye for talent-spotting on occasion.

“I was invited to pick five or six up-and-coming players from Canterbury to take to Cromwell to play the Kawarau Bears, with the rest of the team coming from Mosgiel. Future Kiwis Esene Faimalo and Logan Edwards were among them, as were two New Zealand Marist reps, and Russell Tuuta, who later played for New Zealand Maori.

“I was quite pleased with the five I picked, with all of them ending up with New Zealand in front of their names within five years.”

Whitehead remained a passionate follower of rugby league in his later years, delighting in the Kiwis’ regular successes and riding the Warriors’ rollercoaster. But he had no hesitation in nominating a hero of yesteryear as his all-time favourite.

“My idol was Mel Cooke, who was the best footballer I’ve seen in the South Island and the best forward without any doubt; the second would probably be Charlie McBride.

“I used to pass Mel on the roads all the time – he did a hell of a lot of running. I used to say they named Pound Road after him, because he was always pounding (the pavement).”

There are very few significant elements of Canterbury Rugby League’s post-WWII history Whitehead did not have some big or small role in: “The Pat Smith Trophy that they play for now (in the CRL premiership grand final), I actually bought out of the petty cash at Tattersall Hotel,” he revealed in 2015.

A remarkable milestone was celebrated during a South Island Kiwis reunion at Gary Clarke’s museum in Woolston in December 2014, when Sir Peter Leitch took it upon himself to recognise Whitehead’s 60 years of service to rugby league. In a typically generous gesture, Sir Peter presented Whitehead with an engraved trophy and a voucher to take his family out to Christmas dinner – an indication of the esteem some of the game’s finest servants hold ‘Rugby League Bill’ in.

NZRL chief executive Phil Holden also sent a letter thanking Whitehead for his six decades of service.

“You don’t go looking for recognition, but it’s nice when it happens,” Whitehead said matter-of-factly, while adding that “friendship” was his main motivator for selflessly giving so much of his time for the benefit of others.

It’s obvious the future of rugby league remained very close to his heart, however, and that Whitehead was loath to see the foundations he and others have laid for junior and grassroots football go to waste, concluding our 2015 interview with this pointed reminder:

“I keep telling the clubs, that’s where the Mel Cookes come from. Grassroots are the most important part of our game. I’ll always appreciate my involvement with schoolboy football, and that’s where the great players come from.”

Canterbury Rugby League extends its sympathies to ‘Rugby League Bill’s’ family and friends.

The New Zealand Rugby League community is mourning the loss of Kiwi #568 Gerard Stokes, a Canterbury stalwart on and off the field, and one of New Zealand’s most prominent coaches of the past 30 years. He died aged 65 after battling brain cancer.

Stokes leaves behind an enormous rugby league legacy that included playing and coaching stints on the New Zealand and British club scenes, and with numerous representative teams on our shores.

The son of Jim Stokes, a West Coast and Canterbury forward, Marist-Western Suburbs product Gerard showed early promise as a tough front-rower. He represented New Zealand at schoolboy and age-group level and played for Canterbury B at just 17.

Stokes broke into the senior Canterbury team in 1980. By now with Eastern Suburbs, he used a strong showing for South Island as a springboard to selection in the 1982 Kiwis squad to tour Australia and Papua New Guinea, featuring in four matches.

Stokes spent the 1982-83 northern winter with Workington Town, but not before the start a story that has since passed into rugby league folklore and illustrates his rare toughness unfolded. Stokes dislocated then broke his finger after it became caught in Wellington enforcer and Kiwis teammate Kevin Tamati’s shorts during a rep match. Leaving for England soon afterwards, Stokes played with painkilling injections and the injured finger strapped up all season, then had the digit amputated upon his return to New Zealand at the same time as having minor knee surgery.

The veteran forward returned to Marist-Western Suburbs in 1986. He then turned his hand to coaching, leading the Saints to a grand final – a loss to Halswell – as player-coach in 1988.

A stint in charge of the Hornets garnered grand final success in 1993, before Stokes took the reins of the Canterbury Country Cardinals in the Lion Red Cup. He led the Cardinals to the playoffs in the competition’s inaugural 1994 season.

Stokes became Canterbury coach in 1997, the beginning of a five-season tenure that reached a crescendo in 2000 as the Bulls took out the inaugural Bartercard Cup title. Other representative appointments during the late-1990s included the New Zealand Nines and New Zealand Residents teams.

He was a Kiwis selector and assistant coach under Gary Freeman and New Zealand A coach in the early-2000s, while he coached Wellington in the 2002 and ’03 Bartercard Cups before returning to Workington Town as head coach – the start of a seven-year stretch as a coach in the Old Dart that ultimately led to Christchurch-born son Ben becoming a superstar all-rounder with the England cricket team.

Stokes left Workington Town for neighbouring archrivals Whitehaven in 2008, coaching the club for three seasons – a period that also saw him coach Serbia’s national team.

Ged and Deb Stokes moved home to Christchurch in 2013. Ged, a carpenter by trade, worked with young offenders at Paparua Prison up until last year.

New Zealand Rugby League offers its sincere condolences to Gerard’s wife Deb, sons James and Ben, his extended family, his many friends, and the ex-teammates and players he coached who were touched by the contribution of one of our game’s great servants.

Will Evans