30 November 2015, Eden Park, Auckland, New Zealand
Eric Rush begins at 1.15.00 approximately.
It’s a great honour to be up here today to speak on behalf of Jonah’s rugby mates. And there’s a lot of us here today.
Whenever me and big fella got together, we used to take the mickey out of each other. And that’s not going to change today, so, I’m gonna tell a few stories about the big fella, and I hope he doesn’t sit up.
I first met Jonah out at Wesley. I got invited to training out there, and all I saw was this big man-child running around having fun with his mates. You know he was 6’5”, I think he was only 115 kgs at that time, but he was just a beast.
I remember thinking, ‘geez this guy’s not bad, and then I met him playing touch at the Weymouth Rugby Club, and I wasn’t the fastest winger around, but I was faster than Glenn Oswald, so I wasn’t exactly slow.
And so I saw this big fella marking me, and I had a go at him, on the outside a couple of times, and he was just jogging beside me, smiling, as he caught me. And I thought, far out, this guy’s not bad, alright!’
I went up to him after the game. I said, ‘mate you played pretty good touch, have you ever played Sevens?’
He said, ‘Na.’
I said, ‘we got a bit of a Sevens team, are you keen to have a crack?’
I said, ‘Mate, we’re off to Singapore in a few weeks, you wanna come?’
That was pretty much the extent of his vocabulary back then ... so
We took him up to the Cook Island Sevens, and the Singapore Sevens, and he made the New Zealand team the very next year.
And you know he was just a freak right from the start. The first time we played in Hong Kong, his idol was David Campese, and he just talked about Campo the whole time, and when Campo came up to meet him in Hong Kong, he actually greeted Jonah by name.
And Jonah was being the cool guy, you know, ‘how’re ya bro, how’re ya bro,’ .. he didn’t smile or nothing. As soon as Campo left, man, this big smile come up ... ‘Bro he knows my name! He knows my name! By the end of that weekend, he knew his name all right, cos Jonah run over him, around him and right through him!
After the game Campo came up to me and asked, ‘Who the hell was that big ... ‘ well, that large dark person, I’ll put it in those words. He said, ‘the sooner he goes away the better,’ but anyway ...
As I got to know the big fella, it’s sort of like he was two different people, because he was an absolute beast on the field -- I knew he was going to play well when the nostrils started flaring up, and I always used to make fun of him, I’d say nobody could catch him because whenever the nostrils flared up, he took all the oxygen and nobody had anything else to catch him .... So as soon as I knew those nostrils were flaring, we were away, man, we were away ...
But off the paddock you know he was such a humble guy, such a humble, respectful, generous guy. You know I’m glad he had managers over the years because the fella would’ve ended up with nothing, because he’d give it all away.
He was just a typical Islander boy I guess. That’s how they’re brought up. To be respectful. Michael Jones told me there’s an old Polynesian saying: ‘it’s better to walk into a room, sit at the back, and be asked to go to the front, than to go into the room, sit at the front and be told to sit at the back.’
So any time there’s a group thing, all the brown fellas will always be at the back, because it’s not cool to be out the front.
Jonah was one of those fellas. Definitely. He was definitely one of those guys.
But you know, I had the great fortune to travel, to do all of the islands -- Cooks Islands, Samoa, Fiji, Tonga, and the Pacific Islanders are the friendliest people in the world. Until the whistle goes. And then it’s, watch out mate, because it’s ...
I think the only way I used to get the big fella up for a game, I only learned two Tongan words, apart from the bad ones, but the only words you had to say to him was, ‘tium tamatine ?? Which loosely translated is ‘kill him!’ So he was a pretty easy fella to motivate, just quietly.
I obviously had a lot to do with him, we did a lot of training on fields around South Auckland. It was a love hate relationship. I loved training. He loved the Manako City Food Court. Though we did it. And that’s one thing. A lot of people said Jonah was never fit enough, I disagree with that, because whenever he played, he never let anybody down through fitness. And he always came to training, and he was always ready to take the challenge on.
And that’s one thing about this fella, he was never scared of a challenge.
And some of those training runs, I know, definitely hurt him.
It was about this time that the cars started coming into his life, and Phil used to have kittens about all the cars this fella started collecting.
And his best mate at the time was this little Asian fella called Arnie. He was his best mate. Arnie used to soup up the cars, and Jonah put the sounds in them.
And that big green truck of his. Man, far out! He’d come and pick you up and you gotta drive along, like this, with your fingers in your ears. And your shirt going like this. And he’s nodding away ... hell, I hated going for rides with that fella!
But he also had a bit of a stubborn streak, I’m sure Nadine would agree with this. And anybody who knows him, Haki, I’m sure she knows about this too. When he had his mind set against something, you didn’t try to talk him around because it was very very hard work. The thing is, you didn’t tell Jonah to do anything. If you asked him, he’d run through a brick wall for you.
And when Laurie [Mains] became the All Black coach, and selected Jonah at the start -- those two never got on very well at all. Because Jonah didn’t know how to talk to this southern man, this Waitangi type from down on the South Island, and Laurie Mains didn’t know how to talk to a young Islands boy from the south side.
So I kinda became the go-between. Between the two of them for many of their conversations. So Laurie would tell me what he wanted to know, I go and ask Jonah to get the answer, go back, tell Laurie.
And for some reason, at All Blacks, Laurie wouldn’t let us eat eggs. And one morning, it was before one of the trials before the 95 World Cup, the coaches all went to the gym. So we’re in the breakfast room, and the boys are just going for it, man, we’re eating anything we like. And Jonah had this French stick, this baguette, and he had sixteen boiled eggs in it. And he was eating it like this [demonstrates] and somebody was taking photos of him. And anyway, Laurie Mains come walking back into the breakfast room, and he went through the roof.
He comes over to me, and he says, ‘what the bloody hell is he eating now!’
And I’m just having my Weet-Bix man, I’m just trying to stay in the team, you know. He says, ‘you bloody well get over there and tell him to think about what he’s eating.’
So I went over to Jonah, I says, ‘mate, Laurie’s a bit angry about what you’re eating.’
He says to me, ‘you go tell him to go get f***cked’
I’m looking back at Laurie. He’s waiting for the answer.
I walk back over.
‘Oh, he says he’s just about finished.’
So it was pretty rocky at the start, but by the end of that year, Laurie Mains in his last test match was carried off the field on the shoulders of all the players, and Jonah was one of those fellas who carried him off. So they came a very long way. And a great respect and friendship.
And you know it’s never happened to another All Black coach since. Although to be fair to this year’s All Blacks, it’s a pretty hard ask to get Steve Hansen up on shoulders.
Life wasn’t easy being Jonah Lomu. And you know I had the privilege and a lot of the boys who played are here today, they saw it up close.
In New Zealand, we love getting people up onto their pedestal, but soon as they get there we love nothing better than chopping them down. And unfortunately for Jonah he was at the top of that tree for a long time. And I saw some things that had been behind him, away from the cameras, and it was pretty tough stuff. And I really felt sorry for Jo ... you know he was loved by people but you know there was always somebody out there who wanted to have a go at him.
And I saw all that stuff, and so as a consequence, he was actually a very private man. He kept his friends and his family very close, and for the most famous rugby player in the world, I also believe he was one of the loneliest rugby players in the world too.
'Cause he had only a few close friends, and his family. And that was the reason. That all changed when Nadine came along and gave him his two sons. You know all of us mates, when them two boys came along, we got brushed, we got brushed big time, because it had nothing to do with us and it was great, because, you know, it was the first time I seen a real joy in him.
And as Hardy said just before me, the real tragedy of his death is that he's not going to see these fellas grow up.
But Nadine, I just want you to know, I've been around the fella a long time, and it's the happiest I've seen him. It's the happiest I've ever seen that fella. So I know he's gone, but I know he'll be looking down over you and the boys, and all the mates and family will be there to help as well. You are not alone.
Jonah feared no man. But he did fear one person and that was his mum, Hepi. ‘Cause he was the jandal, I think he was still scarred from the jandal, Hepi! But when his mum said things, he acted. He didn’t listen to anybody else but his mum.
And to you and to Missy and to your sons in law, I just want to thank all of the Lomus for sharing your son, not just with New Zealand but with the whole world.
It must have been hard for you guys because everyone wanted a piece of the big fella. So i just wanted to say thank you for sharing your son with us.
Jonah reached heights on the football field that had never been seen before, and you know it’s hard to imagine anybody reaching those heights ever again. I’m sure somebody’s gonna come along one day, and it’s going to be a great sight to see, because the benchmark has been set pretty high.
He was an inspiration to a whole generation of kids growing up in this country, and across the world.
And not just in rugby either. I think there’s still another whole generation of Julian Saveas and Joseph Parkers and Manu Vatuvai, and Valerie and Stephen Adams, there’s a whole generation of kids still to be inspired by this guy. He was feared the world over, probably more so overseas than here in New Zealand as Harley said too, and the best part of this fella is that he did it all without the slightest hint or arrogance or ego.
When the Dallas Cowboys came knocking, and it was a big contract, he showed me that contract, it was a lot of money, and he turned it down.
I said, ‘why’d you turn it down?’, and he said, ‘oh, it’s only money. It’s not everything.’
I said, ‘money’s not everything , but it’s right up there with oxygen, bro, you do need it, you know? And that’s a lot of oxygen, brother. That’s a lot of oxygen.’
All he said to me was, ‘I just want to play rugby with my mates, and I want to play in that black jersey for as long as I can. And that’s the reason he stayed with football.
He’s going to be remembered as a colossus on the football field, no doubt about that. But I‘m going to remember him as a good mate. And most importantly, as a loving dad.
To Joey, on behalf of all your mates who are here today, brother, we’re just blessed [pause] ... we’re just blessed to be a part of your amazing journey, mate. We’re going to miss you big man. We’re definitely going to miss you. So rest in peace, brother. Thank you.