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Keep charging . . . North Otago prop Ralph Darling in action during the Heartland Championship game against Mid Canterbury in Ashburton earlier this season. PHOTO: PHIL JANSSEN

Ralphie Darling – the man, the myth, the legend. North Otago rugby’s favourite son is in the spotlight this week as he prepares to play his 100th game for the Old Golds. The Darling story has been well told, so Hayden Meikle decided to open the floor to some key rugby figures to explain just why the long-serving prop is so special.

Sam Sturgess
North Otago captain
“Ralphie is one hell of a character, and as a rugby player, he’s outstanding. He’s a prop who can play like a back.
“What he brings to the team is a cool and calm head, and the boys all really relate to him because he gets on with everyone so well.
“To play 100 games for the union is absolutely outstanding. It’s a massive deal. Ralphie’s done the hard yards, and I’m rapt for him.”

Nigel Walsh
North Otago coach
“Ralphie is a guy who has put his body on the line many, many times.
” One hundred games – that’s a lot of training sessions, and a lot of time away from family. That shows the commitment of the man to North Otago rugby and his team-mates.
“He’s approachable, and he’s just an all-round good guy to be involved with, on and off the field.
“He’s had some magnificent achievements, when you think about New Zealand Heartland selection, and three or four Ranfurly Shield challenges. He’s one hell of a player.”

Colin Jackson
North Otago chief executive
“A wonderful milestone and richly deserved by a true North Otago rugby legend.
“I have watched Ralph play most of his 99 games, and for consistency and commitment I give him a 10 out of 10.
“Ralph is an inspirational front-rower who leads from the front and wears his heart on his sleeve.
“Still a young man – his next 100 games will be even better!”

Barry Matthews
South Canterbury and former North Otago coach
“I picked Ralphie in 2010 and he was outstanding for the three years I coached North Otago.
“You couldn’t coach a better person. He was outstanding as a leader, even way back then.
“I’ve still had a lot to do with Ralphie while I’ve been with South Canterbury. He’s just a legend of the game, a bit like Matt Fetu, who just brought up 100 games for us.
“Ralphie’s got a great, dry sense of humour. And he should really be playing five or second five, which he does most of the time anyway.”

Lemi Masoe
Old Boys co-coach
“He’s an exceptional rugby player. He’s got a great rugby brain and I’ve learned lots from him.
“He’s just a great man to have alongside you on and off the field. I’m very proud and honoured to have had played a lot of games with Ralphie.
“To him and his family and his community, getting to 100 games for North Otago is a huge moment. He’s such a great role model who is well respected by everyone.”

But, of course, we will let the man himself say a few words
Take it away, Ralphie.
“I don’t really know how I’m feeling. It’s probably something that I will only come to terms with when I’ve finished playing.
“At the moment, there’s a pretty big job to do, so I’m not really thinking about the milestone. Eventually, I’m sure I will have a little smile about it.
“We’ve gone through some tough patches but we’ve had a lot of good patches too.
“People I’ve met, people who have coached me – it’s been awesome. I’ve enjoyed every single minute.
“I like to think I’m a bit smarter now with how I go about things. I’m not rip, s… or bust like I used to be. That’s probably just something that’s come with age.
“I’ve just enjoyed every minute of the journey, you know. Win or lose, it’s still a good feeling to play for North Otago.”