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Former All Black has inoperable cancer

NEIL REID
Last updated 09:19 07/11/2010
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Photo: John Selkirk
Doug Rollerson at his Mairangi Bay home.
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Playing for Manawatu in 1976.

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All Blacks star back Doug Rollerson has inoperable prostate cancer.

Rollerson, a hero of Manawatu rugby after booting them to Ranfurly Shield victory, and who played league for North Sydney, is waiting to find out how long he has to live.

He was diagnosed with the disease in January. Hopes he could beat it have been dashed.

"I thought we would go and get it [the cancer] cut out and get on with life ... a bit of chemo and away we go," Rollerson, 57, told Sunday News in an exclusive interview.

"But the more we went through the tests, over the weeks and months, the specialists said there was nothing they could do except manage it."

The diagnosis is the latest blow to the one-time golden boot – described on the All Blacks website as "the complete five-eighth".

In February last year, Rollerson, who had been chief executive of North Harbour Rugby Union, was convicted and discharged for signing false invoices that allowed the province to receive funds from poker machines.

Of about $1.9 million granted to the province through pubs operated by ex-league star Brent Todd and his business partner Stanley Wijeyaratne, about $1m was returned to them through false invoices.

Rollerson never personally profited from the scheme, but it cost him tens of thousands defending his case, money he could ill afford following a failed business venture.

He went to his family doctor after struggling to urinate while on a Christmas break with wife Janine.

"One minute you can pee over the bonnet of the car, the next you can't pee on your own boots," Rollerson confided.

He was sent for a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test, which recorded a level of 142 – more than 35 times above the acceptable maximum.

"When I came home and said I had cancer, my wife didn't handle it well. She lost about 6kgs," Rollerson said.

"It was the first time she had ever shown [strain]. All through the gaming machine issue and the loss of all our money, she just went on with it."

Love and support from his family and friends had kept his spirits up, but with "cancer, the greatest issue is the fear of the unknown", he said.

But Rollerson is approaching the disease with the same steel that saw him help seal the All Blacks' 1981 series triumph over the Springboks.

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"What has driven me all my life is the fear of losing, not so much the joy of winning," he said. "It is the same with inoperable cancer. How do you win? You don't, but you can lose so you are driven to beat it."

Initially, Rollerson first wanted to keep his illness private, telling only Janine and their children Ian, 28, Mark, 23, and Kate, 22.

But he has gone public to encourage Kiwi men to get regular check-ups.

Rollerson was asked whether the toll of his lost millions plus the court case had been a catalyst for his illness. "The specialists have said to me straight out that there is no scientific evidence to show that stress does cause this sort of thing," he said. "But there is also no scientific evidence to show that it doesn't."

A support group, included former test rugby stars, has sprung up around Rollerson – who played 24 matches, including eight tests, for the All Blacks from 1976-81.

He said living with the "stigma" of "going broke" had been tougher than being caught up in the pokie scam.

"I was financially set-up ... I had always been successful in business," he said.

"People would go, `He was an All Black but he was also very successful at business'.

"Friends would bring their kids to me to talk about the structure of their life.

"But that stops once you have issues with financial things. It was a hard thing to accept."

SHAME OF POKER SCAM COURT CASE

DOUG Rollerson says losing millions following a failed business venture meant he didn't have the money to more effectively fight charges over the gaming machine scam.

In February 2009, the ex-AB was convicted and discharged on two charges of misleading his employer.

The Serious Fraud Office alleged the scam was master-minded by former Kiwis star Todd and his partner Wijeyaratne.

Rollerson, 57, had lost his $900,000 family home, a boat, investments and a family inheritance following a failed business venture.

"We ran out of money and felt compelled to agree to pleading guilty to a minor charge particularly as it would confirm that there had been no fraud involved," Rollerson told Sunday News.

"If we hadn't have gone broke, then we could have spent more money on the legal side of things. I would never have pleaded guilty."Judge Rhys Harrison said, in summing up: "It is beyond doubt you did not receive a cent for yourself. At 55 you have suffered a monumental fall from grace ... I wish you well."

Todd, who paid back $300,000, was sentenced to home detention for a year and 190 hours of community work. Wijeyaratne was fined $50,000 was ordered to pay $400,000 reparations. Both pleaded guilty.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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