Warriors pay tribute to heroic Sonny Fai
The Warriors held an emotional and physically challenging training session when they returned to Bethells Beach for the first time since the disappearance there of former teammate Sonny Fai.
The team under new coach Matt Elliott went through a gruelling session running up the monster sand dunes by the West Auckland beach, but before they did the squad came together to remember and pay their respects to Fai.
It was an emotional experience for all involved and Warriors legend Ruben Wiki, now the club's conditioning coach, was given the honour of saying a few words and leading the prayer.
"We haven't been back since 2009, since the incident happened," Wiki told Sunday News.
"Matty wanted me to express to the boys that we needed to celebrate Sonny's life and not being afraid to come back to where he was last seen.
"So I just brought the boys together before we had a tough session on the sand dunes and we wanted to embrace and know that Sonny would be watching.
"He would be happy to see us at Bethells Beach and would be watching over us when the boys are going through the tough times."
Hero Fai went missing around 7pm on January 4, 2009, after being caught in a rip current while saving his brother and four cousins when they got into difficulty.
The NRL second-row sensation's body was never found.
Seven months later, the chief coroner confirmed Fai - just 20 years old- had drowned.
Wiki admitted that for a number of players there was some reluctance to come back to the place where their teammate died.
"I think there was individually, but I can't pick which ones," he said.
"All of the boys were pretty close to Sonny and I was too.
"It's the way you respond to it and the way we responded to it by coming here was a tribute to Sonny that he would have loved.
"I know that he's up there watching us with that great big smile of his saying, 'Get up that hill boys', and I think we all felt that today."
Warriors wing Manu Vatuvei said it was important the players eventually came back to Bethells Beach to celebrate Fai's life.
"We knew we had to come here and pay tribute to one of the brothers that we'd lost, so this was a great way to dedicate this workout to him," Vatuvei said.
"Ruben spoke to the boys and said let's do it for him [Fai] and we had a little prayer.
"He will never be forgotten by me and the boys that were really close to him.
"He was one of the brothers and one of the family and he will always have a place in this team as well as in our hearts."