Lance Thompson was renowned for changing his name in the phone contacts of St George Illawarra team-mates to that of Dragons CEO Peter Doust and sending text messages to make them worry.
That anecdote, recounted by former St George Illawarra centre Mark Gasnier, was one of many told about the popular and respected forward during a funeral service on Friday which left those in attendance in tears from both laughter and sadness after his sudden passing.
"I remember Chris Anderson once said 'you can't have a good football team without a good red head' and Thommo was one of the best redheads I have known both on and off the field," Gasnier said.
Former team-mates and representatives of the Dragons, Sharks and wider NRL community joined Thompson's family and friends to honour the memory of a player renowned for his passion, toughness, wholeheartedness and wicked sense of humour.
Among them were Anthony Mundine, Trent Barrett, Luke Bailey, Ben Hornby, David Barnhill, Jason Stevens, Mark Coyne, Nathan Brown, Shaun Timmins, Mark Riddell, Dean Young, Paul Gallen, Andrew Fifita, Brett Kimmorley, Adam Peek, Martin Taupau and Daryl Brohman.
Doust, St George Illawarra chairman Brian Johnston, Dragons coach Paul McGregor, his Cronulla counterpart Shane Flanagan, Sharks chief executive Barry Russell, NRL CEO Todd Greenberg and former ARL boss Geoff Carr were others in attendance.
They heard from Thompson's father Brian how:
- A 14-year-old Thompson used a pair of pliers taken from the family shed to pull the wiring from a broken jaw. "Then he went up to McDonald's in South Hurstville and got five junior burgers";
- Thompson broke a 23-year-old swimming record that was only bettered a decade later by Olympian Kenrick Monk. "That's not bad for a little broken down footballer", and;
- He captained a NSW CHS team featuring the likes of Brett Hodgson, Matt Gidley, Kevin McGuiness, John Skandalis, Luke Williamson and Ron Jones to victory at the National Championship. "Our young fellow won man of the match, which I was extremely proud of".
All of those feats were before Thompson began his 239 game NRL career as a 17-year-old schoolboy with St George in 1995, playing in the 1996 grand final and the 1999 decider in the first year of the joint venture with Illawarra
His last game was with Cronulla in 2008 and 17-year-old daughter Shalisse described being carried around Shark Park by her dad on his farewell lap as one of her greatest memories.
"That was the moment I realised anything was possible and my dad was a true legend and hero," she said.
Thompson's partner Hayley Williams, with whom he fathered twins Lachlan and Laylah, said: "If you were lucky enough to know Lance on a personal level you would know that he was all heart on and off the field".
A doting father to his three children, Thompson's "unique parenting skills" were outline by Shalisse.
"He taught me every Eminem song at the age of eight. That was the only time I was allowed to swear," she said.
"To help me learn maths we made up a game we called the V drink game. Dad thought it was a great idea that every correct answer I said he would give me a sip of V. By the time I arrived at school I was bouncing off the walls and teachers called up my mum asking what I'd had for breakfast."
"Dad and I shared a love of good T-bone steak, spaghetti, footy and WWE wrestling. Dad used to let me have a day off school so we could have a feast and watch Wrestlemania."
Fox Sports commentator Andrew Voss was among others to deliver eulogies at the service, which was conducted by former leading referee and official Greg McCallum, and he recalled first meeting Thompson after a schoolboy's match he called in 1994.
Voss recently conducted the last interview with Thompson before his tragic death aged 40 on August 23 from natural causes.
"Lance could not possibly know how respected he was by rugby league fans," Voss said.
"When we first played the interview on Fox, the reaction came from fans everywhere; 'what a great bloke', 'loved him as a player', 'what a character Thommo was' – all from people he had never met.
"Lance Thompson proved that in this great sport of rugby league you don't need to have played for your country, you don't need to have played State of Origin, you don't need to have won grand finals to be regarded as a champion.
"As high as any honour you can achieve in this sport is respect and I am left with no doubt whatsoever that Lance Thompson had the respect of every team-mate, every opponent and every fan. That being the case he leaves us at the top of rugby league."