Canberra Raiders great Quentin Pongia loses cancer battle

Mention Quentin Pongia's name to those who laced up the boots beside him and one word invariably comes to mind: tough.

Ricky Stuart says the former Canberra Raiders enforcer was the toughest man he ever played alongside, bar none.

Raiders great Quentin Pongia has lost his battle with cancer. Picture: Stuart Walmsley

Raiders great Quentin Pongia has lost his battle with cancer. Picture: Stuart Walmsley

To Mal Meninga, he was a "warrior", one that fought his battle against cancer as hard as he fought on the field to help the Raiders to their last premiership in 1994.

But this was one battle one of rugby league's toughest men could not overcome.

The football community is in mourning after the 48-year-old died in New Zealand on Saturday morning following a lengthy battle with bowel cancer.

The former Green Machine front-rower via the west coast of New Zealand had hands like dinner plates and a physique to match.

Brett Mullins lined up at fullback for that all-conquering Canberra side of 1994, watching Pongia strike fear into the minds of just about every opponent that came his way.

Quentin Pongia was one of rugby league's toughest enforcers. Picture: Dallas Kilponen

Quentin Pongia was one of rugby league's toughest enforcers. Picture: Dallas Kilponen

He could bring crowds to their feet with one bone-crunching tackle, with one barnstorming run. But above all else, "Q" was simply a good man.

"At the moment, mate, I'm shattered," Mullins said.

"Having a beer with Brett Hetherington, Luke Davico, and sharing happy moments of the Q. More tears than words at this stage.

"Hard, tough man. Better man than player. Gone way too early."

There's that word. Tough. Ex-Raiders halfback and current coach Stuart struggles to think of a better way to sum up the veteran of 35 Tests.

Quentin Pongia will go down as a Kiwi great. Picture: Reuters

Quentin Pongia will go down as a Kiwi great. Picture: Reuters

"From my personal relationship, and behalf of the current playing group, I'd like to pass on my sincere condolences to Quentin's family in this tough time," Stuart said.

"Like a number of players who played with him, I have nothing but respect and a wonderful friendship with Quentin and although it saddens me to hear of the news, it comforts me to know he has no pain now.

"Quentin is the toughest individual I have ever played with and I know how hard he fought to beat this terrible disease. He will be sorely missed right across the rugby league community."

The Raiders will wear black armbands in honour of Pongia during their clash with the South Sydney Rabbitohs at Canberra Stadium on Saturday night.

It is a fitting tribute for a highly respected individual rugby league Immortal Mal Meninga says was "a great warrior, a great man for the Raiders".

The day Kiwi Quentin Pongia arrived at Canberra Airport yesterday to begin training with the Raiders. Picture: Richard Briggs

The day Kiwi Quentin Pongia arrived at Canberra Airport yesterday to begin training with the Raiders. Picture: Richard Briggs

"He represented club and country with high distinction. He fought his personal battle with cancer just like his playing days," Meninga said.

"He will be remembered fondly."

Tributes flowed in on social media for a man former Raiders captain Terry Campese said "put his heart and soul into the green jumper every time he put it on".

Canberra skipper Jarrod Croker said Pongia was a "great man taken too soon".

A heartbroken Joel Thompson wrote "we've lost a true champion with a heart of gold. I'm going to miss you".

Quentin Pongia during his Roosters days. Picture: Action Photographics

Quentin Pongia during his Roosters days. Picture: Action Photographics

All three had matured under the tutelage of Pongia during his time on the Raiders' coaching staff from 2010-12. From there he would eventually make his way to Manly Warringah as the club's wellbeing and education manager.

But Pongia will perhaps be remembered most fondly for his on-field exploits by the rugby league community.

Pongia played 74 of his 137 first grade games with the Raiders, having also spent time with the New Zealand Warriors, Sydney Roosters and the St George Illawarra Dragons. Following that came two seasons with the Wigan Warriors in England.

That relentless attitude followed him everywhere he went - so much so that Phil Gould sent Pongia to do tackling practice with Dean Widders during the latter's first year of senior football at the Roosters.

Why Pongia? Because "Gus Gould said I needed to toughen up," Widders wrote on social media.

A tough yet humble warrior, Pongia will be greatly missed, but never forgotten.