Biggest fan ready to cheer
Ron Haturini will skip dialysis at Middlemore Hospital on Thursday so he can be with his beloved Parramatta Eels when they drop by his Papatoetoe Panthers Rugby League Club.
The Eels are one of six teams visiting clubs in South Auckland in the build-up to the NRL Nines this weekend.
The decision to sidestep his hospital appointment wasn't a hard one for the Papatoetoe grandfather who is known to be the Panthers' most ardent Eels' fan.
He has been loyal since the likes of Mike Cronin, Brett Kenny, Steve Ella, Peter Sterling and Eric Grothe ruled the game in Australia and the Eels won consecutive premierships in 1981, 1982 and 1983 and a fourth in 1986.
Those were heady days for Haturini who has been battling diabetes for nearly five years.
But they're just a distant memory now and a world removed from the wooden spoon-winning Parramatta teams of 2012 and 2013.
Haturini has copped a lot of stick from the NRL fans among his clubmates in that time but despite all the teasing and polite suggestions that he jump ship, the grandfather of 20 remains staunchly committed to the Parramatta colours.
"This is a dream come true - my Parramatta Eels visiting me at my club. It doesn't get any better than that," Haturini says. "I'm so excited. I've been counting down since the day the visit was announced. I've taken a lot of stick for this team but come Thursday I'll be able to stand tall when they're here."
And he asks to be excused if he appears childlike as he chases autographs and photos.
Haturini also has a plan to get back at fellow members who repeatedly suggest a smoked eel dinner every time Parramatta plays.
"I haven't bought an autograph book but you see this ball? I'm going to get every player to sign it. Then I'm going to have it mounted and displayed in the club. It will there for all of them to see."
Haturini has arranged to have his dialysis done on Friday, the day after the Eels visit.
His wife Donna, who co-ordinates, coaches and manages at the Panthers, is nearly at the end of her tether with her husband's goings-on.
And it doesn't help that she's a South Sydney supporter who can't get to the Glenfield Greyhounds Club to see her beloved Rabbitohs because of her involvement at the Panthers.
"He has been unbearable to tell you the truth. He has been going on about it since the visit was announced ... the Eels this, the Eels that, it's an omen, this was meant to."
Husband and wife will be in different corners when the NRL Nines kick off at Eden Park on Saturday. But they won't be at the ground - they were too slow to get tickets.