Hornby Panthers Rugby League Football Club – and by extension, the Canterbury Rugby League community – is mourning the loss of one of its most dedicated servants following the passing of Grant Woodgate last week, aged 79.

Woodgate gave nearly three-quarters of a century to the game and his beloved club: he started playing rugby league for Hornby as a seven-year-old and was named NZRL’s Volunteer of the Month in October last year. In between he was a premiership-winning player, a coach, manager, trainer, strapper and club president for the Panthers, and was bestowed with life membership of the club.

Woodgate’s family has been closely associated with Hornby RLFC for more than 100 years. His father, Bill, played 22 seasons of senior football for the club, was a long-serving club captain – as well as representing Canterbury and South Island – and went on to become a coach, manager and Hornby life member.

Grant’s older brothers, Brent (who played alongside Bill) and Rex, were in Hornby’s 1952 and ’58 championship-winning teams. Woodgate began playing juniors in the ‘flyweight’ grade, eventually making his premier debut as an 18-year-old and featuring in Hornby teams that took out the last four first-past-the-post championships from 1963-66.

Another brother, Neil, was unable to play rugby league due to injury, but he was club captain when Hornby, coached by Rex, won the inaugural CRL premiership grand final in 1967 with a side that included Grant and youngest brother, Schoolboy Kiwi Billy.

Grant kicked the match-winning field goal as Mel Cooke-coached Hornby won the 1969 grand final 10-9 over Marist-Western Suburbs. Billy also shared in that grand final success, scoring a try.

Turning down the opportunity to play for Canterbury B in 1967 because it coincided with his wedding, Woodgate was later a player-coach for Hornby’s premier and premier reserves teams, continuing to pull on the boots for the club until 1977.

“Grant was a rugged, rangy loose forward – one of those head-down, arse-up, ‘follow me, you buggers’ types that every good team needs,” John Coffey, the doyen of Canterbury and New Zealand rugby league reporters and historians, recalls.

“And he certainly helped make Hornby good in his day. But, unlike most retired players, he never left the scene. Grant was there for decades after his playing days, as a coach, manger, trainer, mentor and bloke who would pick up the discarded bandages if no one else did.”

As well as putting in countless hours helping out various Panthers teams over the ensuing decades, he became a member of the executive committee and served as club president for 10 years, subsequently receiving life membership of Hornby.

Woodgate was the epitome of the backbone every grassroots sports organisation needs to survive and thrive. Though unassuming, he was central to every success Hornby Panthers have had. That he was October 2022’s NZRL Volunteer of the Month reflected how much he dedicated to the club to the very end.

It was fitting that Hornby’s last match before he passed away was a thrilling, last-minute victory over archrival Halswell, while a day after his death the Panthers, with heavy hearts, honoured his memory with a hard-fought win over Eastern Eagles.

Woodgate’s enormous legacy was central to the Panthers’ build-up to Saturday’s match and that spirit was perfectly exemplified by the performance of fellow club icon Corey Lawrie, who produced a titanic defensive display and played multiple positions in the 26-22 win. A fitting on-field tribute for a mentor and mate.

Canterbury Rugby League extends its heartfelt condolences to the Woodgate family, Hornby RLFC and Grant’s many friends throughout our game.

A funeral service will be held at Hornby Rugby League Clubrooms, Leslie Park at 2.30pm, Wednesday, April 5.


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