West End Bulldogs unite to fly star prop home
FOR an example of the power of rugby league to bring out the best in people look no further than the West End Rugby League Club.
Colts prop Lisite 'Sooka' Hafoka's father died last Friday, on the eve of the preliminary final clash with Goodna.
That family tragedy has since resulted in the club rallying to Hafoka's side in a show of support that all involved can be proud of.
The players wore black arm bands against Goodna and won the game for Hafoka and his family. The Ipswich State High student flew home after the game for the funeral in New Zealand and was not expected back for Saturday's grand final against Norths.
But after the game the young West End Colts approached their coach Jae Woodward and offered to put their match payments together to fly him home.
When the West End Old Boys heard about this moving gesture they put their hands up to pay for the flight back themselves.
Hafoka will catch a Qantas flight this morning and will line up at prop against Norths tomorrow.
"We didn't think he'd come back but the boys came to me after the game and asked me if they could put money towards a flight home," coach Woodward said.
"I was reluctant to ask him before he flew back to New Zealand, because I didn't want him to make a rash decision.
"I messaged him Monday night and said that if a free flight was made available would he be interested.
"I said there was no pressure. He was excited and said he had to talk to his brothers after the funeral. He sent me a text back saying 'thanks coach, my brothers said yes'.
"When the Old Boys found out that the players had offered to pay for the flight with their match payments I got a call from Stepper (David Stephens) and he said the money would be coming from the Old Boys."
Woodward, a former Bulldogs player himself, said he was proud of his players and the Old Boys.
"The players are a close knit group and go to school together, train together and sleep over at one another's houses," he said.
"Some of them spent the night with (Hafoka) when they found out his dad had passed away. It is a credit to the young men that they are and I am proud of all of them.
"I have had a long association with the Old Boys and I love them all to death.
"West End is a family club and these guys have been here since I was a junior. I have known them forever and this club wouldn't be here without them."
There were five West End Old Boys on hand for the QT photo shoot yesterday, all premiership winners with the under 18s.
There was John Nutley and Syd Lewis of the 1960 premiership side.
Steve King and John Humphreys of the 1967 premiership winning side were on hand, along with David Stephens of the 1969 champions.
Lewis said the Old Boys were only too happy to help out.
"It is the least we could do after Sooka went through the turmoil of losing his father in the semi-final series," Lewis said.
"His mother has given him permission to play in the grand final, so we thought it was the right thing to do to get behind him and pay for his airfare.
"Winning a grand final together helps us all stick together because we all know we can trust in one another. We played for one another and we live for one another.
"I think this West End side has the potential to bring home the bickies. They have to pull together, play for one another and go that extra bit. I'm confident they can do it and I'd like to see them do it for Sooka."
Hafoka's teammate Sione Foueti, a second-rower, said he was delighted his teammate was coming home.
Foueti stayed at Hafoka's house the night his father passed away.
"I slept at his house to keep him comfortable," he said.
"The next day he played the best game he's ever played."
Foueti said Hafoka was a joy to have in the team.
"He always cracks jokes and keeps us happy," he said.
Hafoka will be a valued member of the side against Norths tomorrow.
"He is my starting prop and he gives me my go forward," Woodward said.
"I don't give him a lot of jobs to do. He's got one job - run hard, find his front and get a quick play the ball - and he does it better than anyone. He tightens up the defence in the middle too."