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The Manly Sea Eagles’ NRL showdown with the Warriors at AMI Stadium on Saturday is naturally the highlight of the club’s week in Christchurch – after all, that 80 minutes on the field is what it’s all about.

But it’s going to have to be a cracking game to eclipse the special dinner put on by Walco Events and Christchurch Casino on Thursday night in the entertainment and rugby league goodwill stakes.

Hosted at Sixty6 On Peterborough at Christchurch Casino, guests at the dinner included Manly coach Trent Barrett and several of the club’s stars, a handful of Warriors players, former Canterbury, Kiwis and Sea Eagles great Mark Broadhurst, keynote speaker and legendary coach Graham Lowe, Canterbury Rugby League icon Frank Endacott, NZRL chairman Reon Edwards and Fayne Robinson, who designed the Sea Eagles’ special commemorative strip to be worn this weekend and carved the Broadhurst-Shelford Trophy the teams will play for.

Several Sydney-based Manly Sea Eagles members – and one who came from as far as Perth – also got into town early for the glamorous event.

Manly media manager Wayne Cousins received a late call-up to MC the evening but immediately had the crowd in stitches with his laconic wit.

Walco Events’ Justin Wallace, a provincial rep during the 1990s, thanked the long list of people and organisations that had made this week possible – and even had time for a cheeky dig at Endacott for picking him on the bench for Canterbury a few too many times.

Sea Eagles CEO Lyall Gorman then spoke about what the partnership with Christchurch – which he hopes is open-ended – means to the club. He also drew comparisons between the challenges confronting the city in getting a new stadium and Manly’s long-running difficulties attempting to upgrade Brookvale Oval.

Barrett and Sea Eagles players Api Koroisau, Trent Hodkinson, local hero Lewis Brown and fellow Kiwi international Martin Taupau took to the stage to answer some curly questions from Cousins.

It was then the Warriors’ advance party (the game-day squad arrives in Christchurch on Friday) of injured stars Nate Roache, Leivaha Pulu and Junior Pauga, ISP player and social media identity Johnny Tuivasa-Sheck and Kiwi Fern Georgia Hale to get grilled – and that’s when the fireworks started.

Tuivasa-Sheck kicked things off with a tongue-in-check jibe about the kids of Christchurch being more excited to see them than the Manly players this week, while Cousins countered by asking Johnny – brother of Roger – if he was the most talented player in his family.

The standout part of the night was unquestionably Lowe’s talk, however. The former Otahuhu, Brisbane Norths, New Zealand Kiwis, Wigan, Manly, Queensland Origin and North Queensland mentor regaled the crowd with stories from his illustrious career – in particular his 1990-92 tenure with the Sea Eagles.

Lowe spoke passionately and poignantly about his former Kiwis charge Broadhurst and fellow Canterbury great, the late Adrian Shelford, who played for Lowe in the Kiwis and at Wigan and Manly.

He revealed how pop superstar and Winfield Cup icon Tina Turner potentially contributed to the brain haemorrhage that almost derailed his stint at the Sea Eagles before it began, while his declaration that anyone involved with rugby league is a mere guardian of the game – no one is bigger than the game – nurturing it until the next person comes through to take their place resonated with the crowd.

The night ended with the auctioning of framed Warriors and Sea Eagles jerseys, raising over $2,500 to send local Canterbury juniors over to the Manly club for training camps.

It was a truly memorable night – and the perfect occasion to whet the appetite for Saturday’s NRL blockbuster (kick-off 5pm).

Main Image: Graham Lowe and Mark Broadhurst pose with the Broadhurst-Shelford Trophy at the special dinner held at Sixty6 on Peterborough on Thursday night.

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