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More than a game: Rugby league's role in Dai's cancer battle

When you live with incurable cancer it's very hard, even just for a little while, to forget that you live with incurable cancer. 

Between the side effects, the hospital visits, the conversations and a long list of other associated things, moments of solace are few and far between.

Which is why Kiwi comedian and Warriors tragic Dai Henwood so deeply cherishes the sounds of kick-off, and in particular the days and nights at a packed-out Go Media Mt Smart Stadium. 

"The Warriors have been so big in my cancer treatment and my cancer recovery and it’s because I love the Warriors, and watching the Warriors, so much that it takes me completely out of thinking about cancer treatment or having cancer," Dai tells 

"Cancer is one the few things that when you have it, you think about it 24/7, so if there’s anything that takes you out of that – and my two massive passions in life are stand-up comedy and watching rugby league – then that's when I don’t think about it.

I am obviously coming at it from quite an extreme point of view in dealing with stage four cancer, but rugby league really helps me and is something that makes me happy and takes my mind off it.

Dai Henwood

"I am like a kid in a candy store [when watching], I just get so excited." 

Around his ongoing treatment for bowel cancer – which so far has included almost 20 rounds of chemotherapy – Dai has been continuing to commentate Warriors games as part of The Alternative Commentary Collective which provides an alternate broadcast of games on SKY TV in New Zealand. 

It's a dream gig for the 45-year-old, who says his love for rugby league extends beyond any one club and started way back when he was a child and first saw a NSW Premiership game broadcast on a Friday night. 

He supported Balmain and Western Suburbs initially, but for some reason didn't follow them when they merged to become the Wests Tigers, who his beloved Warriors take on this Saturday night in Hamilton. 

Wests Tigers v Warriors: Round 24

His favourite game is the 1989 Grand Final between Balmain and Canberra, which he has watched more times than he cares to remember, with a past tradition being for his friend group to gather on Grand Final day and watch the '89 classic before going on to digest that year's decider. 

These days, on any given week Dai consumes hours of NRL content, including rewatching some games multiple times and taking in whatever the 17 clubs post on their websites and social media platforms. 

"For treatment I'll go in on Monday and be in the hospital for four to five hours, before I take the chemo away and have it injected over multiple days," he explains.

"During that time I'm feeling pretty rubbish, so I usually watch all of the games of the weekend and I'll rewatch a couple of games I really like, then go through a few old Grand Finals.

"We were on the NRL website yesterday actually showing my son the Bulldogs v Souths 2014 Grand Final.

"On the odd time I will sneak my son out of school too and go and watch a Warriors' captain’s run.

Dai supporting the Warriors at the 2011 NRL Grand Final. Credit: Supplied
Dai supporting the Warriors at the 2011 NRL Grand Final. Credit: Supplied

"I get more excited about going to a captain's run than I do Christmas Day, it's really weird!"

Dai has already booked tickets for this year's decider, which he is hoping will be played between the Warriors and his son's favourite team, the Rabbitohs, but in the meantime he's loving what the 2023 Warriors are generating in New Zealand. 

"Since 2011 I have gone to about 90 percent of home games and there has been some grim watching, man," he says.

"But now the atmosphere at the ground is insane. The fans know that man for man the Warriors have a team that can compete with anyone and there’s an electricity around the ground.

"Unlike any other sport, the second the Warriors start doing well they really galvanise people.

"It’s really special, really special."

Dai is an ambassador for The Cancer Society of New Zealand, which is holding its annual Daffodil Day fundraiser on August 25. Click here to learn more or donate today. 

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The New Zealand Warriors honour the mana of the Indigenous peoples of Aotearoa, Australia and the Pacific. We acknowledge the traditional kaitiaki of the lands, elders past and present, their stories, their traditions, their mamae and their mana motuhake.

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