Emotions and generosity were overflowing at the Quentin Pongia Tribute Luncheon at the Ellerslie Event Centre in Auckland.
This was an occasion when rugby league people and the wider sporting community came together in an amazing manner to not only remember ‘Q’ and celebrate his life but to further honour him by raising more than $100,000 for a fund to support he and his wife Sue’s two-year-old daughter Maia.
Despite still recovering from serious health issues, fundraising maestro Sir Peter Leitch put his heart and soul into making the occasion a truly special one, drawing on his group of trusty helpers to make it all happen.
The event had been planned with the man of the moment as the centre of attraction but Q lost his battle with cancer on May 18 at just 48, turning the lunch into a tribute instead.
Sir Peter had vowed he would stop organising the luncheon functions he is renowned for but this was different.
The day was given an exceptional start with the announcement SKY Sport had donated $20,000 to the cause. It never slowed down from that point.
In attendance were any number of rugby league greats and other celebrities.
Former Kiwi Jerry Seuseu, one of Q’s team-mates during his season at the Vodafone Warriors in 1998, was the MC.
Six other team-mates Matthew Ridge, Tony Iro, Stephen Kearney, Marc Ellis, Stacey Jones and Nathan Cayless were all on stage at once to relate their memories of Q. And later his long-time Kiwi coach and father-like figure Frank Endacott shared insights along with Ruben Wiki and Sean Hoppe, two of Pongia’s closest rugby league colleagues from their times with both the Kiwis and the Raiders.
Looking around the tables it was possible to spot so many ex-Kiwis, among them Bruce Castle, Ken Stirling, Lyndsay Proctor, Tom Conroy, Howie Tamati, Kevin Tamati, Fred Ah Kuoi, Dean Bell, Gary Prohm, Tawera Nikau, Dean Lonergan, Peter Brown, Tony Kemp, Tea Ropati, Whetu Taewa, Richie Barnett, Jason Lowrie, Nigel Vagana, Tony Tuimavave, Ali Lauitiiti, Awen Guttenbeil, Motu Tony, Monty Betham, Brent Webb, Paul Whatuira and Shontayne Hape.
Interspersed throughout the programme were comedy performances along the way from Mike King, Dai Henwood and Tarun Mohanbhai.
With auctioneer Darren Brady firing up the room, the auction of 22 items – many of them prized jerseys – was an outstanding success. Jarrod McCracken, another of Q’s closest team-mates, couldn’t make the trip from Australia but donated the jersey he wore in his Test debut against France in 1991. It fetched more than $6000.
Wiki donated a framed collector’s item – a signed 300-game jersey (he was just the 10th player to achieve the mark in 2008) including photos of the first 13 players in the 300-game club. It went for more than $5000.
The top-selling lot was “A Date With Three Knights” – dinner at Headquarters with Sir Peter Leitch, Sir Graham Henry and Sir Graham Lowe for the successful bidder and four mates to watch the third State of Origin match on July 10 (with all alcohol and food for the night supplied courtesy of Headquarters Viaduct). It sold for $10,000.
On what had already been an emotionally charged day, Brendon Pongia took the stage last to talk about his brother. There were few, if any, dry eyes when he spoke about Kiwi team-mate Craig Smith arriving at the hospital and being beside Quentin at the moment he passed away.