"Humbled" Reds to honour Anzac family ties as coach calls for annual clash

Tue, Apr 23, 2024, 3:30 AM
Lachlan Grey
by Lachlan Grey
The Reds secured a 31-nil victory over the Highlanders in Round 9 of Super Rugby Pacific 2024

When the Reds run out for Super Rugby Pacific's Anzac Day Weekend, they'll be wearing more than the Queensland crest on their chests.

Last week, the QRU unveiled a new-look Anzac jersey to commemorate the 60 players who have served in Australia's armed forces, 11 of whom never returned.

Catch every game of Super Rugby Pacific LIVE, ad-free and on demand on Stan Sport.

With design features honouring Queensland's 9th, 25th, 41st and 49th battalions, the 2024 Anzac jersey holds special meaning for Wallaby duo James O' Connor and Zane Nongorr, both of whom attended the official unveiling at Brisbane's Gallipoli Barracks.

O’Connor shared the incredible story of his grandfather and POW escapee Maurice, who served with New Zealand’s 7th Anti-Tank Regiment in the Middle East.

“I was very close to my grandfather. It is wonderful to be acknowledging the sacrifice of both Anzac nations," O'Connor told media.

“He fought in the Battle of Crete and the desert war in North Africa where he was wounded, hospitalised and taken prisoner.

“He was shipped in an Italian cargo boat which was torpedoed by the British Navy. My grandad survived and made it to shore.

“He was transported to a number of temporary POW camps until eventually being shipped to Italy where he worked in a number of POW labour camps.

James O'Connor and Zane Nonggorr launch the 2024 Queensland Reds Anzac Jersey. Picture: Getty

“In 1943, he escaped with several other POWs and travelled over the Apennine Mountains. They managed to travel through the German lines to reach British troops.

“He was transported back to Wellington. My grandad lived to the ripe old age of 93.”

Nonggorr’s grandfather John Twivey served in RAF Bomber Command during World War 2 in England, France and North Africa.

His only injury - a busted shoulder sustained playing rugby for the Royal Australian Airforce against their English counterparts.

“It’s quite humbling when you hear the stories of the Reds players who went away to war and those who didn’t come back,” Nonggorr said.

“There were some incredible young men.

"It means a lot. If I get to play in it, it would mean a lot to me.

"It just makes me so proud knowing that one of my family members got to go and serve and fight for the lives we live today."

Queensland coach Les Kiss has embraced the build-up to Super Rugby Pacific's Anzac Weekend, telling media he'd like to see a Reds-Blues Anzac clash made permanent on the competition calendar.

"I think it'll be a special occasion. We know we're playing a bloody good team," Kiss said.

"It'd be great to create a similar fixtures against the Blues on a year on basis and create that tradition. It's not missed on our boys, the research that's gone into it adds depth and understanding to something bigger than the game.

"It's going to be a special day and the jersey that's been created, the boys love it, and I'm sure it'll be fought in the spirit of respect of the past."

O'Connor echoed Kiss' sentiment, adding the Queensland players would strive to do the Anzac jersey "justice".

"We can't fathom what it was like to be in a battle or be in war at all and I think we just try to emulate what the people in service do.

"They live by discipline, by honour, by courage, and that's what we try to do on the rugby field and when we live up to those expectations usually you find you're on the good part of the scoreboard."

The sixth-placed Reds take on the second-placed Blues on Saturday 27 April at Suncorp Stadium LIVE and exclusive on Stan Sport and Nine Gem from 7:35pm AEST.

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