RIP Jon Mannah
Jon Mannah warming up for his return game for Cronulla against Balmain Ryde. Photo: Anthony Johnson
HE WAS a gentleman.
You talk to anyone about Jon Mannah and that's the first thing they say about the man who has touched the rugby league world through his brave three-and-a-half year battle with cancer that ended on Friday morning. A family man first, footballer second.
The gentle giant of league who, if not plagued by Hodgkin's lymphoma, would've achieved more than just 24 NRL games throughout a brief and interrupted career.
Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan paid tribute to Mannah, 23, by declaring the club a better place for having called him one of their own.
Mannah was highly regarded by those at Cronulla and had more impact on the club than his two dozen games between 2009 to 2011 would suggest.
A devastated Flanagan said the club was in mourning following the loss of the former Cronulla prop, but highlighted his bravery throughout the tough ordeal he confronted in his battle with Hodgkin's lymphoma.
''Everyone here at the Sharks are better for knowing Jonny Mannah,'' Flanagan said. ''The club and a lot of the players are better off for having known such a gentleman. We didn't really know about what he was going through because he was just so tough and he never really showed any signs of 'poor me'. He was always respectful.
''After his 'chemo' and treatment I remember this one time we actually went to the Children's Hospital and he was handing out gifts when he was going through his own battle. He never wanted people to feel sorry for him. He was such a tough person but such a gentleman.''
Former Eels trainer Craig Catterick, who watched him develop from the Harold Matthews Cup ranks, was full of praise for the way Mannah applied himself to his rugby league commitments.
Even when he had every reason to slacken off or give up, he would work twice as hard. ''Everything about Jonny was inspirational,'' Catterick said. ''He did everything ever asked of him. He was always on time, always positive, was always a gentleman and a good footballer. He was everything you'd want from a person at a club.
''Apart from the hair loss, you wouldn't have known what he was going through if you didn't know him. Even when he dropped his weight you would've thought 'gee, he's looking fit'. Apart from his diminished hair you wouldn't have known what he'd been through because he's that kind of guy. He never showed a thing. He always said 'nah, mate, I'm all right - there are a lot of people worse off than me'.''
Tributes flowed for the much-loved role model of the game on various forms of social media. Many NRL players took to Twitter to express their sympathy to the Mannah family and pay tribute to their friend (see opposite page).
The Parramatta Eels released a statement on Friday afternoon passing on their condolences to the Mannah family. ''Jon was a Parramatta junior, extremely popular among his teammates and his brave battle with Hodgkin's lymphoma touched us all. He was just 23,'' the statement said.
Parramatta chairman Roy Spagnolo said: ''It's tragic in any case to lose a young life, but it's even more difficult when it's one of our own.''