Quentin Pongia was regarded as one of the toughest players of his generation. Jackson Hastings will tell you people don’t know the half of it.
The Salford halfback – wanted by Wigan for 2020 – was devastated to learn ex-Warriors and Kiwis prop Pongia had passed away last weekend, aged 48, after a long battle with cancer.
Pongia, who played 30 games for Wigan between 2003 and ‘04, had been recently working as welfare officer at Manly Sea Eagles.
And when Hastings had off-field trouble at the club which led to his inglorious exit, it was Pongia who guided him back from his “lowest point”.
“It’s crazy, mate,” said Hastings. “He was going through what he did with his sickness, and he’s telling me to get a smile on my face.
“I’d go home and think, ‘I can’t believe how tough this bloke is’. He was fighting cancer and he was telling me I’ll be all right.
“It made me feel terrible that he’s helping me and talking to me about staying strong, yet he was in a much, much worse situation.”
Hastings went on to revive his career with Salford last year and says Pongia played a major role in helping him come to terms with his exit from Manly.
“He took me under his wing to make sure I was okay,” said the 23-year-old. “He’d call me up and make himself available any time of day or night, and he gave me a great outlook on life.
“I’m very proud that I got to know Q and I was shattered when I found out he had passed, I couldn’t believe such a great man has been taken from us. May he rest in peace.”
Hastings was speaking at the media launch of the Magic Weekend at Liverpool’s Anfield yesterday.
During a wide-ranging interview, he spoke of his excitement about his first involvement in Super League’s annual ‘on the road’ carnival.
And, inevitably, talk soon switched to his own future.
Wigan want him on board as a replacement for George Williams, whose move to Canberra has still not been confirmed, but are one of several clubs competing for his signature for 2020.
“A lot goes into the decision, you want to know who will be coaching where and who you will be playing with,” said Hastings.
“I need to be happy where I’m at – I’ve learned the grass isn’t always greener. My happiness is the No.1 thing along with playing in a team that will compete, and will give me the best chance of achieving things. I can’t wait forever, clubs will want to know and I don’t want to miss the boat, either. But there’s definitely been no decision.”
Adrian Lam was keen to get Hastings on board for this season and, as favourite to stay on as Wigan coach in 2020, has again expressed an interest in him.
And Hastings admits he can’t rule out the prospect.
He added: “I’ve known Lammy for a long time, I played with and against his eldest son Lachlan, and Adrian has always given me tips to improve my game and if I know if I have any issues he’d be there for me.
“I know he was disappointed he missed out on coaching me this year but I feel I made the right decision – we’ll see what happens, never say never.”
League Express also reported Wigan are interested in Hastings’ Salford team-mate Jake Bibby. The centre is out of contract and the Warriors may seek to strengthen their three-quarters, especially if Dan Sarginson departs.