THE Hervey Bay Seagulls’ bid to win the Bundaberg Rugby League A-grade premiership this season has come to an emotional end.
It was not the result of the elimination semi-final showdown against Brothers at Salter Oval on Saturday afternoon, however — the Seagulls didn’t play in it.
The death of a player, Sonny Johnson, hit the club so hard that coach Terry Horne made the decision to forfeit the game on Friday evening, just hours after the 26-year-old father of three had been laid to rest.
Johnson, who played for the Seagulls’ reserve and A-grade teams this season, died suddenly last weekend.
He was the uncle of A-grade forward Tyrone Hopgood, considered one of the best players in the competition.
Horne said he realised at the funeral that plenty of players were not going to be in any fit state emotionally to play the following day.
“The funeral was so emotional – it rocked me and I wasn’t alone, I can assure you,” said Horne, who took over the coaching duties from Steve Crawford this year.
“When I looked at a group of the players, I just knew in my heart that some wouldn’t be up to playing.
“It was without doubt the toughest decision I’ve ever had to make in my football career, but it was the right one given the circumstances.
“Saying that, I do really feel for those players who did want to play in the game — they can blame me, as I was the one who made the call.”
BRL president Mal Breen said the Gulls’ forfeit was very disappointing from the league’s perspective.
“We all thought they would turn up with their black armbands and play the game of their lives,” said Breen, who attended the funeral.
The president said a BRL directors’ meeting would decide the penalty Hervey Bay would receive for forfeiting the game.
But Breen said he was fuming after being on the end of taunts and criticism from spectators and club officials while they tried to restructure the program after the forfeit.
“We tried to make it fair on everyone; have continuous footy,” he said.
“But the clubs weren’t coming to the party and everything we tried went pear-shaped.
“The criticism we copped was just ridiculous and I honestly felt like pulling the pin.
“People are quite happy to stand back and whinge, but never come forward and actually contribute anything.”