It will be one of the most emotional and stirring build-ups for any NRL match when the Titans walk out onto Mount Smart Stadium in Auckland on Saturday to the only trans-Tasman Anzac Day clash of the five-game celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli landing.
And leading the team out will be Titans' popular backroom man Darrell Madge, sporting his battalion cap and war medals and, no doubt, misty eyes.
At a time when all NRL players will be drawn to history of war and the legendary Anzac spirit, Darrell – a former Manly lower grade halfback and Australian touch football representative who has worked with Gold Coast’s national league teams since the pioneering Giants of 1988 - will be the only one in our midst who can truly relate to what Saturday is about; the only travelling Titan who has looked war squarely in the eye.
And that has never been easy for him.
Darrell was one of more than 63,000 young Australian men 'called up' as part of a birthday ballot between June 1965 and December 1972 to join the services, many of whom fought in the Vietnam War. He saw action as part of the 107th Field Battery based at Nui Dat for almost 10 months in 1970 before returning to Australia as one of a myriad of soldiers ostracised through no fault of their own because of their part in the most politically-controversial and polarising war in our history.
Instead of being hailed heroes like those from Gallipoli and other World War I and World War II campaigns, the Viet vets were alienated and shunned for many years. And for many like Darrell, Anzac Day brought no celebration or attachment until 13 years ago when finally there was a reconciliation of their efforts and thousands walked in the annual memorial march.
They are now proudly remembered on Anzac Day and the Titans players are all honoured to have him as first in line when they walk out for a sporting battle in Auckland on Saturday that has no genuine comparison to the battles he endured 35 years earlier.
"It's going to be emotional as I'll be away from my family for the first time on Anzac Day but I'm honoured to walk out with the boys," said Darrell who will attend the dawn service in Auckland before heading for the stadium well before the 9.40am under-20s kick-off.
"It wasn't the case for a long while but Anzac Day is now one day a year I look forward to. I am in awe of the soldiers who fought at Gallipoli and the courage and commitment they showed; I’ve been reading a book about it recently. What I did in Vietnam is nothing compared to what they went through, it is mind boggling, and to think boys 16 and 17 years old just wanted to go as if it was an adventure.
"It is a really emotional day for me, especially with family around. It's going to be hard being away from them for the first time but the players and the club are really supportive.
"To walk out with the team it will be special. I have a lot of respect for our boys and I feel honoured to be able to walk out with them. A couple have asked me about my war experience and I find it hard to talk about, and I don’t think they really can grasp what it was like, they are a different generation."
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