It was a Fox Memorial Premiership debut which might have ruined a lesser player.
For Gary Kemble though it proved the catalyst for his fast-tracking into the Auckland representative side, thanks to some words of encouragement from a local legend.
This article originally appeared on aucklandleague.co.nz.
Aged just 18 at the time, Kemble had been called up to the Ellerslie first team by coach Morrie Robertson and asked to line up in the centres opposite Ponsonby’s brilliant 29-Test Kiwi Roger Bailey.
“I was just worried about the stiff arm from Roger of course. I was really intimidated, and he was tough to mark, but we won the game and I set up a try that day,” Kemble recalls.
“After the game Roger actually came up to me and said, ‘listen kid, you’ve got a big future’.
“It meant a lot to me and gave me a lot of confidence.
“He was one of my idols. When I used to go to Carlaw Park I used to watch him and all of the Ponsonby guys from the terraces.
“To play against him was special and as it turns out he retired after that year.”
It was with the Eagles that Kemble made his name in the Auckland competition, quickly graduating to become an Auckland representative before joining Hull FC in the UK.
But the fullback – known affectionally as Crayfish – said his first league experiences at the Papakura Sea Eagles will always remain close to his heart.
“It was my dad who knew somebody at the Eagles, and seeing as I was getting selected for Auckland sides and all of that sort of thing he thought that I should have a go at a club that was playing up in the top grade,” Kemble says.
“But I was a boy who lived in Takanini and my parents, especially my dad, they were the instigators in getting me into rugby league early on at four and a half years old at Papakura.
“I remember some hard yakka up the little hills by the main ground.
“I was there for over 10 years and I loved the club. All of the teams I played in and the players I played with were awesome.
“To watch them lift the [Fox Memorial] trophy in 2016 was just incredible.”
When Kemble was first selected for the Auckland representative side – again, still aged in his teens – he joined one of the strongest teams the region had ever assembled.
Kurt Sorensen, Fred Ah Kuoi and New Zealand Player of the Century Mark Graham were just a few of the famous names in the squad, which in 1977 famously defeated Australia, Great Britain and France.
“It was a tough initiation with the Auckland side. We played Eastern Suburbs in my first game and I had Arthur Beetson running towards me,” Kemble says.
“It was like ‘hello, this is rugby league at the highest level’.
“Playing in the 1977 team was the biggest thing that ever happened in my rugby league career in terms of where I got to.
“If I wasn’t part of that I wouldn’t have got the opportunity to go to Hull and to get selected with the Kiwis.
“That Auckland team was just great… I still say now that team could have made it anywhere in the world.
“To beat Australia, I am still pinching myself today.
“The only other time I experienced anything like it was with the Kiwis in 1985 and a year with Hull when we won almost every trophy.”