Lance Thompson: Hard nut with a soft underbelly

The player with the rock hard exterior and "soft underbelly" was remembered by more than 400 friends, family, teammates, coaches at a tribute luncheon in Sydney on Friday.

Lance Thompson died of natural causes on August 23 last year, leaving a vacuum in the hearts of the rugby league community.

But former Sharks coach Ricky Stuart, who mentored Thompson in the last two years of his playing career, said the warmth in the function room at Doltone House, Sylvania Waters, was the game at its best.

"He's left a beautiful wife and three children behind – one of the young six-year-olds is autistic and is going to need help and care – and the rugby league fraternity answered that call," Stuart told NRL.com.

"Today you could see the good in the game. It was nice so many faces were there throughout Lance's career. That's what the sport can do – it can bring people together who want to look after one another.

"The people there had Lance's back today. Lance didn't ask for it. It was all for his family.

Lance Thompson's mother Joan with former Dragon Anthony Mundine.
Lance Thompson's mother Joan with former Dragon Anthony Mundine. ©Grant Trouville/NRL Photos

"I just wish more of the players today respected what the game can do for you, more so than abusing it. It's not about the individual. We've all got commitments and roles to do within our game.

"What I know about the goodness of rugby league, I saw there today."

Thompson's parents Brian and Joan were present, along with his 18-year-old daughter Shalisse, who was one of the guest speakers. Thompson also has six-year-old twins Lachlan and Laylah.

"He was a doting dad and just solid as a rock to his friends," said one of his closest friends, Mark Gambin – one of the chief organisers of the fundraiser.

Sharks captain Paul Gallen speaking at the Lance Thompson Tribute. Alongside Gallen are boxing trainer Johnny Lewis and Thompson's former Dragons teammates Anthony Mundine and Trent Barrett.
Sharks captain Paul Gallen speaking at the Lance Thompson Tribute. Alongside Gallen are boxing trainer Johnny Lewis and Thompson's former Dragons teammates Anthony Mundine and Trent Barrett. ©Grant Trouville/NRL Photos

"He was only 40 years-old so it took everyone by surprise as well as being a terrible shock," Gambin said.

"I hear him in my head all the time, especially setting up the room here for the function.

"There were plenty of photos of him around the place so he was watching over us all."

Other guest speakers were former Dragons teammates Trent Barrett and Anthony Mundine, boxing trainer Johnny Lewis who coached Thompson in several fights, and Sharks teammate Paul Gallen.

"He was just so fiercely competitive," Gallen told NRL.com.

"When he came to the club I was starting to make rep footy teams, and he always said to me ‘You know you would have been nothing without me’.

"I actually thank him for being such a great teammate. He helped me with the work rate I had to do at the club. His work rate took a little pressure off me and allowed me to shine a bit.

Lance Thompson's mother Joan with Sharks captain Paul Gallen.
Lance Thompson's mother Joan with Sharks captain Paul Gallen. ©Grant Trouville/NRL Photos

"So without a doubt he had a massive influence on my career and helped me to where I got to."

Thompson played 239 first grade games – the majority with the Dragons (1995-2005) but the last 38 with Cronulla (2006-2008).

Barrett said Thompson as a teammate was as good as they get. The pair played in the 1999 grand final together in the Dragons' loss to Melbourne.

"I defended alongside him for a long time, so he looked after me plenty of times," Barrett told NRL.com.

"You always knew what you were going to get with Thommo. He was like that off the field too. He was a very loyal bloke, a very generous bloke."

Gambin and his team organised raffles and auction items ranging from overseas holidays, sporting memorabilia, corporate boxes at Randwick, and Sharks and Dragons home games.

The event raised $158,000 towards the financial security of Thompson's three children.

Gallen said there were moments of sadness offset by a lot of love and support for the Thompson family.

At the Lance Thompson Tribute are his parents Joan and Brian, Anthony Mundine, Trent Barrett and Johnny Lewis.
At the Lance Thompson Tribute are his parents Joan and Brian, Anthony Mundine, Trent Barrett and Johnny Lewis. ©Grant Trouville/NRL Photos

"I can’t imagine what his kids are going through, and his parents. I just caught up with his dad and gave his mum a cuddle and they were teary," Gallen said.

"It is emotional and being a parent myself, I can't imagine how hard it is for them."

The lunch was timely. It was held on the eve of Thompson's 41st birthday.

Donations to the Lance Thompson memorial fund: St George Back BSB: 112-879 Account: 451-646-572