Since news broke last Friday of the loss of New Zealand rugby great Jerry Collins and his wife, true Canadian girl Alana Madill, stories of his exploits on the famous grounds of the world have been front and centre.
The big hits. The World Cups. The famous jerseys. The teams he starred for.
But none of the stories have mentioned what turned out to be the penultimate chapter in his life: his time in small town Canada.
For many in Canadian rugby, it was a bit of a legend; "did you hear Jerry Collins lives in Grande Prairie?" some would say. A few would say it was true, "ya, I played against him in such and such a place - he really is a beast."
Joe Alaimoana knew the legend. He was his boss for much of the last two years: yes, in Grande Prairie.
"He said he wanted a fresh start, to be somewhere where no one knew him," Alaimoana recalls. He found that in the northwestern Alberta town. Other than a few guys working at Alaimoana's security company - other New Zealanders who'd come over on work permits - no one knew who he was. He was just another Kiwi boy; hardly surprising since Alaimoana was from Wellington himself. His cousin, former Samoan rugby star Trevor Leota had also come over around the same time, easing his transition. Leota, who is still in Edmonton, helped the two connect.
"He was under the limelight all his life," his former boss said. "We talked quite a bit. He was a very humble person, he just wanted to get away."
And so there Collins was, working for All Peace Protection, just one of the boys.
He would get invited to travel to a far-off tournament, with big names - there was even a chance to go play international rugby for Samoa - but "he was really content" with life in Grande Prairie. He declined the all. For two years, nothing could stir him.
At least not until this past January, when struggling French club Narbonne came calling with an offer he just couldn't resist: a half-season of second division rugby in France. It was a far cry from the heights he'd seen in his professional career, but it was a chance to help a club avoid relegation, the story goes. At age 34, there still was mileage left in him, it seems. In Narbonne, he "was like Elvis."
"I think in the end he really did miss the rugby," said Alaimoana.
The other part that maybe played a factor? His new wife, Alana, who he'd met in GP, and the baby they had on the way. With a new life as a family man, was this also about a last kick at the can? Whatever it was, the couple were loving their time in France, and they were loving being parents to baby Ayla, now four months old. (Ayla, badly injured in the car crash that took the lives of her parents, remains in hospital in France. Relatives have rushed to her bedside and funds are being raised for her future care.)
"She met her match when she met Jerry and she settled right down and she grounded him," her friend Candace Steck told the Regina Leader-Post. "Their whole lives just changed. I saw Alana's life just change when she met Jerry. She found her soulmate and met her match. They just loved each other and were meant to be."
Alaimoana said it was love almost at first sight.
"She loved him, we got to know her really well, we actually met her when they first met, we were there," he said. "She was definitely excited about going to France."
In Grande Prairie, Collins got involved with the local rugby club.
"He was helping out with our program, and doing stuff with the high school. He did a couple sessions for us, it was good to see him in his prime," he said. "The kids didn't know anything about him at first, but they would look him up on Youtube and they'd be like 'holy crap!' Then they'd come back the next day and they'd ask him questions, about the world cups, about playing pro. He was always good."
This past Saturday, Grande Prairie hosted a club from Edmonton, the Pirates. They could have called their games off, but instead they held a tribute day. There was a memorial display, with photos of the couple from their time in GP.
"One of the guys on the other team (Pirates coach Kevin Tuhua) was a guy from back home, he did a haka for Jerry," Alaimoana said. Collins had family in GP and they came along to the day. "It was very passionate, the family got together with Alana's friends and told some stories and some crying."
At work, it's been a similar scene. Collins and Madill had been gone since January, but no one could quite believe the news.
"We were talking about the time we would get together, we'd get the guitar out and sing songs," he said. "The guys are slowing starting to share their stories. They'd remember that Jerry used to yell at them, not because he was angry but because he wanted to get stuff done. He's one of those guys who'd call a spade a spade."
"During meetings, he had his own little corner and you'd hear him grumble. Other people from other companies would say 'what the hell was that guy doing there' but then they'd see him work."
Collins did a lot of site security work for the company's contracts in the oil patch. He was good at keeping the guys in line, Alaimoana said.
"He was definitely a genuine person, he was very entertaining, a very straight up guy. But when the opportunity came knocking, he just couldn't say no," Alaimoana said. "We grew up in the same area of Wellington."
"I had a lot of respect for him even though he was younger than me," he said, with a chuckle.
• This story originally featured on theprovince.com and is republished here with their permission.