Cheika writes to Jeff Sayle: "You taught me to love the game, mate".

Shute Shield
Michael Cheika.
by Michael Cheika

Wallabies coach Michael Cheika counted Jeff Sayle as a coach, a mentor and a mate. 

After Sayle's passing today, Cheika sat down in Tokyo and wrote his friend a letter.

"To Sayley,

The news this morning hit me like brick. You did more for me that I can put into words but I’m going to give it a try.

You taught me, first and foremost, to love the game. You were always so positive about the game – you lived it, you bled it and you did a bloody good job.

I think the biggest thing mate was that you did it all by action. Just by the way you behaved rather any big stirring speech or whatever. There’s a lot of carry on with rugby nowadays but the great things about the game are friendship, teamwork, passion, loyalty, honesty, respect – and I learned all that because of you Jeff.

You treated every person in the club the same, from the battler in sixth grade to the third grade colt and then all the way to first grade. You were always a passionate and loyal friend to all.

You were definitely a players person. You had this amazing skill of bringing us all together. The weird mix that we all were. You could connect with the street rat kid, the Indigenous kids, the elbow patch kids and everyone in between – and you could pull them all under the same banner in Rugby.

You not only inspired me but a whole generation of players to love playing the game. You loved playing and watching the game for the contact AND for the running rugby.

Look at the stable of coaches and players that you’ve overseen or had an influence on. You were with Bob, there with Eddie and Ewen – the countless Wallabies and Waratahs you’ve had an impact on. You lit a fire - a real passion - in people and the game is now richer for it.

Just one of the things I’ve taken with me is your ethos on the ‘identity’ of a club. You knew how to talk training and then how to get the blokes around a BBQ afterwards.

You were also a legendary tourist. Nearly every great story would begin and end with you. When I was deciding between playing League or Union - one of the reasons I stayed was because I thought I’d get more free trips overseas with rugby! We ended up on tours to Uruguay, Hawaii, Papua New Guinea and around Portugal and some other parts of Europe on Rugby trips together. 

You were actually a bit of a helping hand when I ended up venturing overseas to play too.

Well you nearly didn’t let me do it you shifty bugger. You were General Manager of Randwick at the time and I was just a punk pulling beers behind the bar. I ventured into your bomb of an office one day – papers and stuff everywhere. In and amongst all the stuff I saw this little note of a club in France looking for a number 8. I pinched it, called the number, got the gig and came back to talk to you – and then you laughed as you told me that you didn’t actually want me to get that!

Then there was the time I got my head cut. It was pretty bad – about 36 stitches or so. It was in the Qualifying Final or one of those one year. I had to miss the Semi but was dead keen on playing the final against Easts. I said to you “there’s no way you’re going to stop me from playing.” You said “Righto, but you need to get your head drained before you play.”

So there I go, into hospital – poor young, naïve kid – with no idea what’s really going on. Anyway, I woke up the next day after being knocked out on general anaesthetic and by the time I came good, they said I couldn’t play. You were looking after me that day even though I was filthy at you for weeks.

And then there was the time after we won the 88 or the 89 Grand Final – when you took the whole team into the hospital to see the wife of one of lads. She had just given birth, like either that day or the night before – and in rock 25-odd steaming blokes to see this little newborn and this poor shell-shocked lady who had just given birth. Really one of your great ideas Sayley..

But that was exactly it mate – you taught me what truly being part of a community is about. You were an example of that when times were good, and were times were bad.

You are Grassroots Rugby Sayley. Men like you will always make it succeed. And Australian Rugby is poorer today without you mate.

So as you used to say mate “Whooshka boomie. Let’s go”.

We will try to honour you by playing with that same verve for the rest of this World Cup."