By Willie Jackson
A sad news report on Sunday left me pondering life and the steady march of time.
Reports of the passing of rugby league great Tony "Tank" Gordon for a moment returned me to a cool July evening 25 years ago when I sat down to watch what was expected to be yet another predictable defeat of the Kiwis by Australia.
What actually happened was one of the greatest upsets in the history of New Zealand rugby league. That night our team, which included some fresh Kiwi talent led by relatively new and untested coach Tank Gordon, snatched a victory 13-6 from the champion Kangaroos at Brisbane's Lange Park.
I remember seeing Tank's face after that win.
He was a big man, a hard man, and his face was not one quick to show emotion. Yet on that night, perhaps one of the most satisfying of his life, there was emotion.
He was ecstatic and was swamped by his players, including Clayton Friend, young rookie Kevin Iro and Adrian Shelford.
Tank's coaching career also included stints with the Bay of Plenty and in the UK.
He played for the Kiwis in his younger days and represented the Bay in league and the King Country in rugby, playing at fullback or wing.
Tank hit on hard times in the late 1990s, which led to financial problems.
His passing on Sunday went unnoticed by many media and his achievements for the country were not acknowledged publicly by groups, including the official rugby league and rugby fraternities who should have done better.
I was saddened by this oversight and it was cause for reflection for me – because in life we all make mistakes. And there is finality in death.
I was, however, warmed by the support for Tank and his whanau from Te Wananga o Aotearoa, who employed him when he was down, utilising his considerable skills and sporting expertise to train emerging sporting talent.
It was a relationship that continued for 12 years until his death, including his election as chairman of the Tuia Union which represented most of the wananga's staff.
So profound was Tank's relationship with Te Wananga o Aotearoa that he asked for his tangi to be held at the marae on its campus at Malfroy Rd in Rotorua – a request that was honoured by the organisation.
Tank committed himself to doing the best he could on the rugby and league fields. He was a humble, hard-working bloke who worked to the end helping others.
My lasting memory of him will be of the man jubilant that July evening. It was an achievement that should never be forgotten.
Manukau Courier, 15th April 2012