A long-lasting link with the Vodafone Warriors was lost when Allen McLaughlin, the voice of rugby league, and his sidekick Owen Wright called an NRL game for the last time at Mount Smart Stadium on September 4.
McLaughlin and Wright were once again perched high up the West Stand in the RadioSport commentary booth for the Vodafone Warriors’ final 2016 regular season match against the Parramatta Eels.
It not only signalled the end of the club’s 22nd season in the competition but also the finishing line of a journey McLaughlin and Wright had been on since the memorable night on March 10, 1995, when the Auckland Warriors made their entrance into the competition.
McLaughlin – aged “66.5” – came into the rugby league commentary game after Des White had been the king of the airwaves at Carlaw Park. He loved going to the game’s warts and all spiritual home and calling matches there. Indeed, he wasn’t at all overjoyed about the move to the venue which is now very much the Vodafone Warriors’ home; he wasn’t alone either.
But ‘Mac’ thawed eventually to become a critical component in the game day mix at the code’s new base.
Since that opening night against Brisbane, McLaughlin said he had called all but one of the 254 NRL games the Vodafone Warriors have played at the stadium as well as the club’s matches in Super League’s one-off World Club Challenge in 1997 and Tests the Kiwis have played there since 1989. He doesn't remember the one NRL game he missed but knows it was due to a throat infection.
If the match against the Eels was especially poignant for McLaughlin, so, too, was the Vodafone Warriors’ media session at Mount Smart Stadium that week.
He had reason to be a little reflective as he attended what should be his last regular season media day. The emphasis is on ‘should’ because chances are he won’t be able to stay away once the 2017 campaign rolls around. His home is so close Mount Smart Stadium is effectively his second address much of the year (when he’s not doing cricket commentary work).
The enthusiasm, energy and raw passion he put into his rugby league commentaries is now the stuff of legend. No question, he loves the game.
Few could match the cocktail he delivered for his listeners. His high-level excitability apart, he had a special talent for giving some players multiple name pronunciations further enhancing his distinctive place in the annals of sporting commentary. They were a source of great mirth, not least for the man himself who would chuckle when told about them. His signature was Glen Fisiiahi who, instead of having his name pronounced Fiss-ee-ar-hee, would be Fish-ee-ar-see, Fiss-ee-ar-shee or Fish-ee-are-shee. There have been plenty of others that have been tongue twisters including Watene-Zelezniak which was given the McLaughlin treatment this season.
He also relished the opportunity to share stories and pass on some wisdom when he gathered with other journalists on media days. Players won’t forget him either with his close quarters interviewing style.
Rugby league issues and ill-informed comments excited him readily and will always do so. He almost always has some in-depth analysis to back up his arguments.
McLaughlin’s a fund of knowledge on other subjects with a huge appetite for sporting history and also rock music. Get him started there and he will roll out one snippet after another.
Mount Smart Stadium and the Vodafone Warriors will never be the same now he has finished.
It has been such a huge part of Mac's life but he has been an even bigger part of the rugby league experience for countless listeners who have taken in his commentaries across the club’s 22 seasons.
Enjoy the rest Mac. It’s richly deserved. The memories will live on.