I'll never forget the first time I met Frank Mulcare. It was in 2016, as Stephen Kearney's Kiwis team were aiming for a fourth successive victory over the Kangaroos, something that had only been done once before.
That was way back in 1952, when a New Zealand side beat Australia in Brisbane, Sydney, Christchurch and Wellington.
The remarkable achievements of those "history boys", who were coached by Jim Amos, and topped a Kangaroos' side containing Clive Churchill, one of the first immortals, has gradually been forgotten as the decades had passed.
But in the course of researching the team, and talking to people who witnessed the era, everybody remembered Frank Mulcare.
"You have to speak to 'Francie'," said one former teammate. "He was a great player ... and a character."
That became clear at Mulcare's large farm, one hour north of Whangarei, with extensive views over the Hikurangi Valley.
Mulcare was 86, but still actively farming. He had been attending to his beef cattle herd, zooming up a steep hill on a quad bike, accompanied by his sheepdog Boss.
Mulcare was friendly and welcoming, but puzzled as we arrived with notepads, reference books and camera gear.
"It strikes me as quite intriguing that two newspaper fellows would travel all this way to listen to some octogenarian waffling on," said Mulcare, with a grin. "Why would you want to talk to an old codger like me?"
But over the next few hours he happily discussed his extraordinary life, on and off the field, with a frankness and humour expected from a West Coaster from Ngahere.
Aside from his sporting feats, Mulcare was the Canterbury police prosecutor for more than a decade, then worked as head of security for a Northland firm that sent container loads of bank notes across the globe in the 1980s.
During his career he played against former French resistance fighters and an Australian boxer, celebrated the Kiwis' record 49-25 win in 1952 with a drinking session that lasted almost a day, and met his future wife at a Townsville ball on the same tour.
Growing up on the West Coast in the 1930s and '40s, league was big time, with large crowds attending club and regional matches. Mulcare's father, Jim, had played for Balmain and Mulcare, superbly fit from years of work on the family farm, was a natural.
He made his Kiwis debut on their 40-game tour of Britain and France in 1950, where they played up to four games in a week. Mulcare never forgot his encounters with the French, particularly their fearsome forward Louis Mazon, who had twice escaped from the Gestapo in World War II and was later honoured in the Rugby League Hall of Fame.
"Louis was heavily involved in the resistance and was imprisoned, interrogated [and] suffered severely," recalled Mulcare. "You were always very attentive to find out what Louis' instructions were because you wanted to protect yourself as much as possible. But it was hard because, once given instructions, he thought he was back in the resistance."
Mulcare loved reliving the wonderful Kiwis team of 1952 and 1953, when a bunch of engineers, printers, butchers, miners, farmers, freezing workers and a publican established a record that has stood for more than six decades. They won a series across the Tasman — highlighted by the 49-25 win in Brisbane, with nine tries and a world record 11 goals from Des White, then repeated the feat the following year in New Zealand.
"A lot of great talent came together at the same time," said Mulcare. "There were a lot of stars in their own right. Throw them all together, and you got magic."
Mulcare, a talented back rower in one of the best Kiwis teams assembled, scored the decisive try in the third test win in Sydney in 1952.
"Francie was immense in those years," said White in 2016. "He was tough, skilful and fast. He had everything."
Mulcare played 46 games for his country, including 18 tests, but retired before his 27th birthday. He was voted as a Legend of League by the NZRL in 2007.
By 1958, Mulcare had joined the police, becoming the lead prosecutor for Canterbury. He later moved to Northland and became head of security for Bradbury Wilkinson, who produced bank notes for New Zealand and 30 other countries, shipping them around the world.
Frank was always great company, and remained incredibly active, still looking after the farm into his 91st year.
"I was proud to play with players I had great respect for," said Mulcare. "We were one of the best Kiwis teams there was. Up until now, no one has matched our feats."
Mulcare died last Sunday at home, surrounded by his children and grandchildren.