The Marist Saints Rugby League clubrooms were destroyed in a fire this morning.
PMN News/Matt Manukuo
Former Marist player and rugby league great Willie Poching received texts early this morning saying the clubrooms were on fire.
The Marist Saints clubrooms is just a five minute walk away from rugby league great Willie Poching’s home. He says when he opened his phone at 5am to get up for his regular gym session - his morning was quickly turned upside down. .
To his shock, a video sent to him showed his former grassroots club going up in flames.
“I closed the video and read the caption:‘boys, this is the club, the club’s on fire’.
“I watched the video again and you can just make out that that’s the fence, and the dressing rooms are still there and I’m thinking, surely not.”
Poching, along with his family went over to the clubrooms, and were met with the sight of their former home away from home reduced to smouldering ruins.
“You could see the fire brigade were there, they did a fantastic job, the flames were gone but the devastation, the ruins, the destruction of the fire had already taken place.
“You could see it was unsalvageable. The club as we knew it, the club that has been a home for so many people, it’s been a safe haven for many a young man and young women is gone.
“The heartbreaking thing is those memories that were in the place that we’ll never get back. The photos, the trophies, the jerseys, the memorabilia all gone, in a matter of an hour.”
The Toa Samoa assistant coach and his family are one of many long-standing families of the Marist Saints who woke up to the devastating news.
“There’s many of us, many like us. We grew up there, and spent almost every weekend because of the efforts of our parents and what our parents put through that place so we naturally gravitated there.
“My sister, her husband and their kids have grown up through there and given so much like many others.”
Poching says the news isn’t just a “Marist” thing, saying there have been messages in support from around the world.
“I’ve been getting messages from the UK, from everybody in the rugby league family. You just feel the compassion from every club, offering their condolences. The game sticks together in times like this.
“There’s Marist boys all over the world that are feeling like I am today. You feel heartbroken for everybody, and anyone who had something to do with the club will be hurt.”
General Manager for Auckland Rugby League Duane Mann says the news has shaken clubs around Auckland, who have reached out to Marist to offer support.
“A number of clubs have reached out to the Marist committee members, some have reached out through Auckland Rugby League.
“It’s great to know when people are experiencing tough times, be it flood damage or something else, like we do Pasifika and Maori we rally around and offer support.”
Mann says several high-profile players like Sonny Bill Williams and Sitili Tuponiua have reached out to the club in support.
Poching adds that the next challenge for the club is to pave a new history for the club, which was founded in 1919.
“That’s the challenge now, is to navigate through this and have the club rebuilt. Before we start a new history if you like, putting up new photos, forging a new beginning for the club whilst also remembering the foundations that are still there.
“The in-between bit now will be tough, keeping people in the club but encouraging people that whilst there’s darkness now, there will be brightness at the end.”
Fireman surveying the area.