There were plenty of laughs and a few tears at the second annual dinner put on by Walco Events and Christchurch Casino on Thursday night ahead of Manly’s NRL clash with the Warriors at Rugby League Park.

Hosted at Sixty6 On Peterborough at Christchurch Casino, guests at the dinner included Manly coach Des Hasler and Sea Eagles stars Daly Cherry-Evans, Martin Taupau and Tom Trbojevic, a Warriors contingent featuring club legend Jerry Seuseu, current front-rower Sam Lisone and Kiw Ferns Lorina Papali’i and Georgia Hale, Sky Sports’ Kiwi League Show crew – including Monty Betham and Lewis Brown – who filmed their show from the event, Sir Peter Leitch and New Zealand Test great Sean Hoppe.

Manly icon Steve Menzies and Kiwis and Canterbury legend Quentin Pongia were the guests of honour.

Several Sydney-based Sea Eagles members also got into town early for the glamorous event, while Manly media manager Wayne Cousins reprised his role as MC – charming the crowd once again with his laconic wit.

Walco Events’ Justin Wallace, a Canterbury provincial rep during the 1990s, thanked the long list of people and organisations that had made this week possible, as well as putting the spotlight on victims and heroes of the March 15 attacks in Christchurch.

Manly CEO Lyall Gorman then spoke passionately about what the partnership with Christchurch – which he hopes is open-ended – means to the club, and the Sea Eagles’ desire to do what they could for a grieving city and its community.

Former NSW and Australian back-rower ‘Beaver’ Menzies, who scored 180 tries in 349 games for Manly and the Northern Eagles, regaled the crowd with hilarious tales about former teammates Hasler, Cliff Lyons and Mark Carroll.

Sea Eagles captain Cherry-Evans and Kiwis star Taupau, followed by Warriors trio Lisone, Papali’i and Jackson Frei, answered some curly questions from Cousins on-stage.

But the undisputed highlight of the night was Pongia’s heartfelt interview with Leitch, better known as the Mad Butcher.

West Coast product Pongia played the first of 35 Tests for New Zealand while playing in Canterbury, before embarking on a long professional club career with Canberra, the Warriors, Sydney Roosters, St George Illawarra and Wigan. He is also in the midst of a tough battle with cancer.

Pongia, who has been with Manly as a welfare officer in recent years, pulled no punches when discussing his eventful career as a front-row enforcer. He was similarly unflinching when speaking of his courageous determination to overcome cancer, despite a difficult recent prognosis.

The 48-year-old received a rapturous standing ovation from a crowd filled with colleagues, former teammates, coaches and opponents, and admirers.

The night also included the auctioning of framed Warriors, Sea Eagles and Richie McCaw All Black jerseys, raising almost $10,000 to send local Canterbury juniors over to the Manly club for training camps.

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

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