KRIS Radlinski says lessons can be learned from Jonah Lomu on and off the field after the All Blacks legend’s untimely death.
As news broke yesterday of Lomu’s death, at the age of 40, on Tuesday night, the Wigan Warriors director paid tribute to a man who ‘transcended sport’.
Although playing in different codes, Radlinski and Lomu’s careers took off at similar times, with a 20-year-old Lomu destroying England in the 1995 rugby union World Cup semi-final with four tries while a month before, Radlinski, then 19, tore Leeds apart with a hat-trick at Old Trafford.
“To wake up to news like that is upsetting,” Radlinski said.
“It’s so sad to lose someone so young, and we only saw him a few weeks ago at the World Cup.
“Not many people transcend sport in the same way he did - in the same way as Pele or Muhammad Ali. If you know sport you know Jonah and this is a sad day for all sport.”
Radlinski was renowned for being a reliable last line of defence at full-back for Wigan, and admits he would have liked to have tested himself against Lomu.
“We all know what he did in that World Cup,” said Radlinski.
“There was no chance the England boys could get near him - it was men against boys - and not many are able to do that in a World Cup.
“If I had ever gone to union, I would have liked to have gone up against him to see how I would have done.”
We try to educate young guys off the field and about being better people as well and I’m sure we could learn more about Jonah and use him as inspirationKris Radlinski
Lomu, a superstar in rugby union, was linked to moves to rugby league throughout his career, with Leeds chairman Gary Hetherington trying to bring him to Sheffield Eagles in 1995 and the Rhinos later in the decade.
And there were rumours of a potential swoop for Lomu at Central Park.
“I’m not sure how much was in it - I was never aware of anything other than rumours,” said Radlinski.
“We had Inga and Scott Quinnell from rugby union and he will have certainly known about Wigan. Would we have liked to have had him in or Wigan side? Of course we would.”
One Wigan star of the 90s who did get to share a pitch with Lomu was Jason Robinson.
The eventual World Cup-winning winger had to do it as an opponent though, in the 2002 international between England and the All Blacks.
England actually won the game 31-28, but Lomu still scored twice, including one with Robinson unable to stop him in time.
“Jason would have relished the opportunity to play against him,” said Radlinski.
“He would have wanted to test himself against the best and as a player there’s no fear when you cross that line.”
But the important lessons to take from Lomu were not left out on the field according to Radlinski.
“If you look at the tributes left to him, and how he lived his life, he was a very gentle man, he never forgot his roots and was very proud of his New Zealand heritage,” explained Radlinski.
“He touched lives off the field.”
And in developing young players, Radlinski admits Warriors can take inspiration for Lomu’s legacy.
He said: “We try to educate young guys off the field and about being better people as well and I’m sure we could learn more about Jonah and use him as inspiration.”