New Zealand
Tributes made for rugby cult hero Berryman
June 23, 2015
Norm Berryman © Getty Images

Former All Blacks captain Tana Umaga has led the tributes for popular former Northland rugby star Norm Berryman, who died on Tuesday at the age of 42. One-Test outside back Berryman died of a heart attack in Australia, where he has been based for several years.

A father of six, he had recently worked as a forklift driver in Perth, where he had also played club rugby. Umaga and others expressed shock and sadness at the passing of the player who will be remembered for a flamboyant attacking style and laid-back approach off the field.

A decade-long career for Northland through the 1990s included three seasons with the Crusaders, where he won three Super Rugby titles from 1998-2000. He also represented the Chiefs and Blues. Berryman's Test appearance was off the reserves bench when he replaced Eroni Clarke in a 24-23 loss to South Africa in 1998.

"He always had a big smile," Umaga said. "He loved life, loved his family, he'll be a big loss. It's a life lost too young."

Umaga was constantly amazed by Berryman's ability to scythe through defences, belying a physique which was wider of girth than most of his peers. Also an outside back, Umaga admits he was embarrassed more than once defensively when the pair locked horns at provincial and Super Rugby level.

"There were probably a few times where he beat me on the outside, the inside, upside-down, I'm not too sure. He was that good with his footwork. "He had amazing skills for a big man."

"Stormin" Norman Berryman, as many supporters knew him, represented New Zealand Maori across an 11-year span and finished his playing career with short stints at French clubs Castres and Bourgoin. Northland rugby chief Jeremy Parkinson said he would be remembered as a champion for ordinary athletes.

"Any kid can grow up anywhere in the country and become an All Black, and that's what Norm did," Parkinson told NewsTalk ZB. "He was always a character, he always had a smile on his face, he played the game for all the right reasons and in the spirit of it."

Berryman's death follows that of another recent former All Black, Jerry Collins, who died in a car accident in France this month. Collins' wife was also killed and their baby daughter remains on life support.

The Crusaders have also remembered Berryman with a tribute from Crusaders CEO Hamish Riach who said that Berryman was a legend in Crusaders country and someone who fans readily embraced because of the way he played - with flair and with his heart on his sleeve.

"Norm was with us for three seasons, won three titles, and left an amazing impression on everyone in the organisation that he met. He also made an instant connection with our fans because he was such a down-to-earth, likeable guy - with the most remarkable smile. He will be missed by the Crusaders and New Zealand rugby as a whole."

Crusaders Head Coach Todd Blackadder, who captained Berryman in the late nineties, remembers a man who was a true Crusader with an incredible positivity that rubbed off on all of those who knew him.

"Norm was a great player but more importantly just such a nice bloke. This news comes as a real shock to all of us who played alongside him. He was a man who loved playing footy and his attitude was infectious. Seeing that wide smile on his face every time he scored a try is a memory that will always be with me."


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