Whangārei's Old Boys and the Onerahi seniors meet on the turf today in commemoration of their whanau member Casey Smith seven years after his death while marking the return of rugby to Onerahi.

Both teams had been running the memorial matches each year since Smith died, but since their last seniors left, the Onerahi Rugby Club had been forced into a recess which had complicated the organisation of the annual event.

Casey Smith died of a brain aneurysm in 2012, while living in Darwin.
Casey Smith died of a brain aneurysm in 2012, while living in Darwin.

After a one-year break, Smith's memorial game is being held again which was an important step for Onerahi, club chair Sally Raymond-Paikea said.

"Casey was a hard case guy; very much a people's person," Raymond-Paikea said.


"Everyone loved him.

"Organising the match is a way of acknowledging Casey and his contribution to our community."

Smith's old club had their doors shut for four years after the lack of funds and volunteers made it increasingly difficult to keep it up in running.

However, the new season promises a turning of the tide for Onerahi who are currently renovating their club facilities and have two teams playing – an under-18s group and a seniors team who will be on the turf at the memorial match.

The taonga will be presented to the winning team of Saturday's memorial match. Photo / John Stone
The taonga will be presented to the winning team of Saturday's memorial match. Photo / John Stone

"We've also had some enquires for a rippa rugby team which would be great to have," Raymond-Paikea said.

She hoped the match was a stepping stone for the club to get out of their recession.

"It's a way for us to show that we are coming back and that we're serious about it," Raymond-Paikea said.

"It's been a really difficult time for us, but we'd like to show that we're a place where people can come to."


If everything goes to plan, Raymond-Paikea would like to see the renewed facilities to become more than a rugby club but a place for everyone to come together.

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One important community member, who will be cheering at the sidelines of the Smith's memorial match today, is his mother Wendy Giffin.

She described her son as an outdoorsy "crack-up fella" who loved the sea and even more so his family and friends.

His mates nicknamed Smith "Irwin" as he shared some charismatic trades with Steve Irwin and equally loved the outdoors – especially fishing and diving.

Smith died of a brain aneurysm on November 11, 2012, while living in Darwin on the north Australian coast which came as a "huge shock" for his whanau.

"Casey was a caring person, and he touched a lot of people," Giffin said.

Over 400 guests came to farewell Smith after he died, which leaves his mother amazed to this day.

"It never gets easier. There's nothing that prepares you for losing your child," Giffin said.

Smith grew up in Parua Bay with four other siblings and played rugby with a passion for various clubs in and outside of Whangārei, including the Onerahi juniors and the Old Boys.

Giffin said after they were unable to organise Casey's memorial match last year, some of his old friends got in touch saying they would want to reinstate the tradition and raise funds for the Onerahi club.

Giffin calls her son's old teammates as "her boys" saying they were all like a big family.

"My boys are playing in both team, so I will be cheering for Onerahi and the Old Boys on Saturday," she said.

The winner of Saturday's match will take home a wood carving which was inspired by Smith.

The taonga is a piece of swamp Kauri shaped into a hook with Mount Manaia engraved into it.

"The taonga captures Casey beautifully," Giffin said.

The match kicks off at 2pm today at the Onerahi Rugby Club. The club will launch their muster for the new season early next year and encourages anyone who is interested to get in contact via onerahirugby@yahoo.com.