Mourning loss of rugby league stalwart

Aucklander Steve Brewster, who was deeply involved in rugby league in multiple ways throughout most of his life, will be farewelled today (Thursday) after passing away unexpectedly last week at the age of 68.

The funeral service for the former top-line player, long-serving administrator and foundation Vodafone Warriors member will be held at Mount Smart Stadium, his second rugby league home following the demise of his beloved Carlaw Park.

It was in the Mount Smart precinct that the Brewster family enjoyed a strong association with rugby league. Steve’s wife Helen worked for the Warriors from 1997 to 2005 while the couple’s daughter Jay-Anna and son Matt both had stints with the club’s team of game day ball kids.

Steve Brewster spent many years across the road from the stadium’s Beasley Avenue gates at the Auckland Rugby League’s headquarters. There he served as a director on the ARL’s board as well as the Carlaw Heritage Trust’s board.

He was also a prime mover in establishing an Auckland team in the New South Wales competition, this year known as the Canterbury Cup NSW.

The concept started out as the Auckland Lions in 2007 before the ARL and the Vodafone Warriors combined forces to form the joint venture Auckland Vulcans in 2008 with Brewster installed as general manager.

The Vulcans would quickly prove to be an invaluable pathway for both organisations, a feeder team for the Vodafone Warriors to field their contracted players not on NRL duty and also an opportunity for aspiring Auckland club footballers to gain exposure at a higher level.

During his time in the position, Brewster worked with player managers and authorities to clear the way for Manu Ma’u and Suaia Matagi to pursue NRL and ultimately international careers after both had served time in jail. They were initially able to play for the Vulcans only in home games with their convictions preventing them from travelling to Australia. Eventually both players were able to travel, Matagi going on to break into the NRL with the Vodafone Warriors and Ma’u with the Parramatta Eels before they both became Kiwis and later switched to their countries of heritage.

Brewster, known as 'Hunter' by his mates, had originally been encouraged to move into rugby league administration only after a break from the game following his retirement as a player in the early 1980s.

It was a career that took him to the brink of representing the Kiwis during the 1975 Rugby League World Championship (or World Cup).  

After playing France in Christchurch, the Kiwis had matches against England and Wales on consecutive weekends at Carlaw Park. Canterbury’s John Greengrass had been troubled by shoulder injury in the clash against France which flared up again in a 17-17 draw with England.

Greengrass was named again to play Wales the following week with Lyndsay Proctor again to be the reserve forward. On the day before the match, Brewster was called in to train with the Kiwis amid speculation that another forward might also be in doubt. Ultimately Greengrass was ruled out, Proctor started and the teenaged Kurt Sorensen was brought in as the reserve.

In those times only two reserves could be used meaning Brewster was effectively the 16th man. He made the team photo, listed as non-playing reserve.

Brewster played rugby union at Tamaki College in the 1960s but his rugby league journey began when he first linked with the City Newton Dragons before moving to Marist where team-mates included the likes of player-coach and Kiwi Tony Kriletich, Fred Schuster, Bill Burgoyne, Gene Swann and his close friend, the late Malcolm Boyle.

Brewster rose to make the Kiwi Colts for a 1973 tour to Queensland, a side which included Kiwis in the making Tony Coll, Wayne Robertson, Eddie Kerrigan, Bob Jarvis, Peter Gurnick, Tom Conroy, Proctor, Warren Collicoat, Bill Johnsen, Nolan Tupaea and Kevin Barry.

He represented the star-studded Auckland provincial side at a time when teammates included past, current or future Kiwis in Dennis Williams, Murray Eade, Jarvis, Conroy, Dave Sorensen, Barry, Les Beehre, Robertson, Proctor, Brian Tracey, Don Mann, John O’Sullivan, Doug Gailey, Warren Collicoat and Gurnick.

In 1975, Brewster was signed by Maritime, which swept onto the Auckland scene in a blaze of publicity. They snared the mercurial Roger Bailey and grabbed headlines by signing All Black prop Graham Whiting as well as his King Country teammates Tony Gordon and Wayne Marsh.

Brewster’s employment took him to Christchurch from 1976-1978 where he signed with Hornby and also represented Canterbury. He moved to Wellington with his work in 1979 where, as player-coach, he guided the Upper Hutt Tigers to the club championship title for the first time in a side which included Kiwis Kevin Tamati and Collicoat. He also had the distinction of representing Wellington to complete a rare trifecta after earlier playing for Auckland and Canterbury.

His return to Auckland saw him finish his playing days with Eastern United in the Auckland club competition (a team formed by amalgamating Howick and Pakuranga). It was coached by his former Auckland teammate Eade with other team members including ex-Kiwi centre Paul Matete and Brewster’s great mates Boyle and Paul Harris.

The Vodafone Warriors will pay tribute to Steve Brewster when they host Cronulla at Westpac Stadium in Wellington on Friday night.