How tragedy shaped Coogee Dolphins
Gone, but never forgotten. That's the mantra the Coogee Dolphins live by. It's their pledge to ensure that six former teammates will always be remembered.
October 12 will mark 15 years since the Bali bombings, and not a day goes by that the rugby league club from Sydney's eastern suburbs doesn't acknowledge their fallen brothers.
Shane Foley, David Mavroudis, Clinton Thompson, Joshua Iliffe, Adam Howard and Gerard Yeo were celebrating their end of season trip in Bali with teammates in 2002 when tragedy struck at the Sari Club.
Eighty eight Australians lost their lives in the terror attacks on a night that brought the Dolphins closer than ever before.
In a heartfelt one-on-one chat, Dolphins President Ben Cook sat down with NRL.com to explain how the club was doing their best to honour their teammates.
When Ben Cook joined the Dolphins a decade ago, he knew from the outset that this was the club for him.
A school teacher by trade, Cook has been on the club's committee board for a number of years – initially as secretary – before becoming president three years ago.
"I wasn't from the area so I moved here from Bathurst," Cook said.
"I just really enjoyed being involved in the club and I felt that they really took me in and made me feel welcome right from the start.
"I wanted to give back to the club by getting involved with the committee, and I guess as time has gone on, roles have become available and I've put my hand up for them. I never really had any desires to become president, but at the time no one else really wanted the job and I was happy to have a go at it and I'm really enjoying it.
"I'd heard of the Coogee Dolphins through what had happened in Bali. But also being from the country, most country blokes know about the Dolphins. It's a club where if you're moving down here, you tend to gravitate towards because it's all country guys.
"There was a real sense of community from the moment I got here. I really liked the fact that they made the new players aware of what the history of the club was and what it meant to be a Dolphin and that the events of 2002 would be remembered at certain points of the year."
The Dave Mavroudis Cup
This Saturday's pre-season game against Wagga Brothers is much more than just your average trial, with the clubs honouring the life of former player Dave Mavroudis for the shield named after him.
'Mav' as he was affectionately known, played on the wing for five seasons and was also the club treasurer before he lost his life in the Bali tragedy.
If you live in the Wagga Wagga area, you are strongly encouraged to get down to Paramore Park from 3.00pm onwards to watch both grades duke it out in what Cook describes as "one of the most important games on the calendar".
"This will be our third year against Wagga Brothers. We used to play against Wagga Magpies because they were Dave's junior club. Then they amalgamated to become South City Bulls. We played against them for a number of years up until 2012," he said.
"I guess a few of the blokes who knew Dave at committee level had moved on so it probably lost its importance a little bit for South City. There was a year where we had to pull out at the last minute because we had a tough year and were struggling for numbers in the pre-season.
"There was a hiatus for a couple of years, but then a couple of Dave's mates and some people who knew the Mavroudis family became really involved with Wagga Brothers. We started chatting and decided that we should get it going again.
"They've been so supportive and really accommodating and the event is going from strength to strength. It's becoming a major event on the calendar for both teams to start the season."
The 2016 match
After falling short in the 2015 clash, the Dolphins bounced back in style to lift the shield last year. Cook - who missed the game with a knee infection suffered earlier in the week – explained the significance of the result, not only for the club, but the Mavroudis family.
"It was really good because we'd had a couple of really tough years in 2014 and 2015. We really had to dig in to get two sides on the paddock, so to get that win in 2016 sort of signified the start of a new era for the club," he said.
"There are three shields that we play for each year and it was important to win one of them back. It solidified that feeling in the pre-season that we were heading in the right direction and was a springboard for us having a good season last year.
"It's got a lot more meaning than your average pre-season game. You have blokes like the life members from our club who travel down there for the game and stay the Friday night.
"Obviously Dave's family are there and Dave's father (John) comes in to speak to both sides before the game. He says a few words about what it means to him and his family and how much the club meant to Dave.
"John is a man of few words, and it's obviously a very taxing weekend for him. It's bittersweet in that we're celebrating Dave's life, but it also brings up the events of 2002 and the fact that he's not with us anymore.
"He doesn't say a lot, but he tells us that he wants us to do our best for both clubs and that we're both playing for something that's probably more significant than just a game of footy played amongst mates."
While the match itself is an important way to start the season, the weekend in Wagga is about a lot more than just rugby league.
"It's certainly played in the right spirit, and after the game we go back and have a presentation together and have a few drinks. It's a really great way to start the season for us," Cook said.
"I think one of the highlights for me is the Sunday morning. It's just the Dolphins who do this – we go out to Dave's parents' place, and the players, extended family and friends of theirs are there and they cook a big barbeque for us.
"We sit out the back on the lawn and have a chat about life, footy and Dave. That's probably one of my best memories from all my years at the club. When I first turned up in 2008, that whole Wagga trip brought home that I was at an awesome club and made me want to be a Dolphin for life.
"That's what all the boys in Bali were about; mateship and being there for each other. That's what I've learnt about all of the boys; above all else they were a great bunch of mates who would get into mischief together but always looked out for one another.
"That came to the fore after what happened in 2002, with all the boys who weren't injured able to come back and look after each other and the families of the victims.
"It was a horrific time, and it seems that the way supporters and players were able to come together and pull through it made it easier for people to endure."
Honouring fallen teammates
The Dave Mavroudis Cup is just one of the ways the Dolphins have honoured the teammates who are no longer with them.
"Across our emblem we've got the six numbers of the boys. We haven't retired the jerseys but those numbers are across our jerseys and everything we have," Cook said.
"We play a game against Coogee Wombats for the Shane Foley Shield because he played for both clubs. That's something that both clubs enjoy.
"We've also got the Adam Howard Shield against Bondi United. That's become one of the biggest games on the calendar. After the game each year we'll head back to the pub of whichever team hosted the game. It's really good to keep those memories alive and to have the families there if we can.
"Clint Thompson is recognised with the best and fairest award for A-grade.
"Gerard Yeo is the players' player for A-grade. Then we have a special award for juniors where one of the players is picked as a standout – not because of their skills – but how they embody what the club is all about, and that's for the Josh Iliffe award."
October 12 commemorations
The anniversary of the Bali attack is one of the most difficult days of the year for the players, families and club as a whole, but the Dolphins have ensured the lives of their six former teammates are never forgotten.
"We go to the Randwick Memorial every year on October 12 and then we put on some drinks for our members and supporters afterwards. Our presentation night is always around that time so people who have travelled over for the memorial can stick around for the presentation as well," Cook said.
"We often head out to Dolphin Point at the north end of Coogee. It got renamed Dolphin Point after 2002. There's a plaque with our logo and the names of the six boys.
"We do a number of things out there throughout the year to honour the boys. Whenever we're in a senior grand final, we always go out there in the week preceding and have a bit of a chat and get some of the older guys to show how important the club is and what those sorts of opportunities mean."
End of season trips
The Dolphins have had the honour of travelling to America to compete in several tournaments over the years, and that tradition will continue after the 2017 season.
"At the end of the year we're going to America for our end of season trip. We'll play a representative side form the southern teams over there in Jacksonville, and then we'll go over to Chicago to play the Stockyarders," Cook said.
"In 2012 we played in Las Vegas in a tournament called the Remembrance Cup. It was to commemorate 9/11 and also the Bali bombings. It was a round robin with four other rugby league sides which we took out.
"I think it was really special because it was a tournament that meant something to all the sides involved. To be playing an international tournament where we were representing the club and also the 88 Australians who lost their lives was a great honour.
"In 2004 we also played a curtain-raiser before the Kangaroos v Tomahawks in Philadelphia. They still talk about that as one of the best trips the club has ever had."
New players always welcome
Anyone in the eastern suburbs looking to play rugby league is encouraged to get in touch with the Dolphins who are looking to add to their two senior sides, nine junior teams, and 17 netball squads.
"We're always looking for recruits in our juniors from 6-15 in both boys and girls. We've got new facilities at Kensington Oval. Anyone is welcome to come along and have a go," Cook said.
"Last year we came third in first grade in the South Sydney Junior comp, and we lost our reserve grade grand final in golden point.
"That's where we were for a number of years – at the top in both grades – and then we had a couple of years where we didn't do so well. To be back up there where we aspire to be was special. Through word of mouth we've picked up a few new quality players so things are looking really good."
"We've been lucky that Wagga Brothers have been happy to push forward with the Dave Mavroudis Shield," Cook said.
"Because it means so much to our club, sometimes it can be a bit lost on other clubs so we've been really glad that Brothers, Coogee Wombats and Bondi United have been so supportive of these annual fixtures.
"The longer time goes on, the more important it gets that we remember these guys and put more effort into these weeks to make sure everyone who lost their lives in Bali are never forgotten."