Truly a classic after 30 years

Garth Hassall, who has been playing rugby for the same Taieri team for 30 years, enjoys the rugby...
Garth Hassall, who has been playing rugby for the same Taieri team for 30 years, enjoys the rugby and "a beer afterwards". PHOTO: GERARD O’BRIEN
One man.

One team.

One grade.

One extraordinary effort.

Garth Hassall must be closing in on 400 games for the Taieri senior grade side. The 51-year-old cannot say how many games he has played exactly.

It is well over 300, though. And to get there he has only had to hang in there for 30 years.

Yep. 30 years.

He was tempted to give it away when he turned 50. But when he realised this year would be his 30th for the team, he figured he could go around one more time.

The Smoked Eels play Strath Taieri at Peter Johnstone today and the club will celebrate his achievement afterwards.

There will be a good crowd in. The Taieri premiers are hosting University in a playoff match on the No 1 ground.

But the real champion will be packing down at lock on the No 2 ground.

"It has been 30 years in the senior grade but I’ve actually been with the club for five decades, six if you include junior rugby," he said.

Hassall had a stint playing football and was a talented goalkeeper. But he caught the rugby bug again while watching the 1987 Rugby World Cup and returned to the oval ball code.

He linked up with the Taieri senior side in 1992 and has been with the team ever since.

Hassall has played a full game in every position except hooker and fullback. That makes him almost as versatile as he is durable.

But patience has to be his No1 virtue. He waited 27 years to win the open grade championship banner.

The game was only part of the lure, though. Hassall "got stuck into the social side of the game" and built some lasting friendships.

And that is what kept him returning year after year.

"No matter what is going on in you life you can walk in there on a Thursday night for training or for Saturday’s game and always see nice friendly smiling faces.

"They’re non-judgemental and just take you for who you are. You have a game of footy for 80 minutes and have a beer afterwards."

This will be his last season.

"My children have all grown up, but now I’ve got the grandkids to watch play in the frost at 10 o’clock."

He will miss having a beer with his mates but tomorrow night a "few of the old guys will come out of the woodwork and we’re going to sit up top and tell some stories. Some of them might even be true."

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