After a playing career littered with highlights and more than his fair share of controversy, this was one battle David 'Chook' Howell was never destined to win.
After almost a decade of fighting parkinson's disease and dementia, the Western Suburbs Rosellas legend, who led the club to three consecutive premierships in the early 80's, finally succumbed to the illness that wreaked havoc with his mental health in a Newcastle nursing home on Saturday. He would have turned 69 on Wednesday.
Rated one of the toughest and most feared players to ever lace on the boots in the local competition, Howell dished out plenty and had a rap sheet longer than most players. But he was also frequently on the receiving end as well.
"He caused plenty of carnage on the field but at the same time, he's had perforated ear-drums and detached retinas and plenty of other things from the battering he took as well," former teammate Mal Graham said.
"He dished it out but he copped plenty in return back in those days too."
In an interview with the Newcastle Herald back in 2014, Howell revealed he had suffered as many as 15 concussions during his career. There is little doubt he has paid the ultimate price for consistently being knocked out.
"It [parkinsons] started getting me in my late 50s - that's something I put down to football," Howell said. "It's something that people cop because of head knocks and that sort of thing. I've got memory loss really bad now. My mates will say to me, 'remember this' and I can't."
One of Howell's most talked-about on-field incidents came In 1981 when he captained Country against a star-studded City side in Canberra that included the likes of internationals, Craig Young, Paul McCabe, Steve Mortimer, Steve Rogers and Mick Cronin.
Howell, whose teammates that day included Graham, five-eighth Peter Walsh and centre Robert Finch, lasted barely a few minutes before being sent off.
In that time, he had ironed out City secondrower McCabe twice with coat-hanger tackles, the second prompting an all-in brawl. When calm was eventually restored, Howell was given his marching orders, which was probably just as well because during the brawl, he had been king-hit by rival captain Young and had perforated his ear-drum. But while he earned his tough-guy reputation, Howell was also an outstanding player and inspirational leader.
Born in Young, he made a habit of winning premierships before being signed by Wests in 1977 following a recommendation from another Rosellas legend Allan Buman. In 1978 in the absence of injured captain coach Bob Adamson for the decider, Howell captained Wests to a 23-16 grand final triumph over South Newcastle.
He was appointed captain coach in 1980 and proceeded to lead the Rosellas to three straight premierships, the first two over Cessnock and the third over Kurri. In 2010, he was named at lock in the club's team of the century.
Another former teammate and current Wests board member Rob Darcy said Howell was "a guy everyone warmed to very easily".
"The type who could have a conversation with the prime minister but also the bloke in the gutter," he said. "He had this ability as a coach to get his players to run through brickwalls for him although we never had to because he'd run through them first."
Graham said it was devastating to see the way Howell's health deteriorated.
"The blessing is he is no longer in pain and going through what he had to endure over the past nine years," Graham said.
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