Sam Ward: How Warringah and rugby helped me through the darkest of times

By Matt Findlay

Come kick-off at Rat Park on Saturday afternoon it will be just shy of two years to the day since Lachlan Ward’s sudden, tragic death during a fifth grade game at the same ground, 729 days to be exact.

For Sam Ward and his family not one of those days will have passed without a thought of Lachlan, who was just 24 when he passed away, his death leaving not just the club and competition but indeed the entire sport in a state of shock, and mourning.

More than one thought, actually, countless in fact.

For the elder Ward brother and his family the thought of the former Barker College junior captain has been a constant since that fateful day on June 10, 2017, the memory of their beloved Lachlan an ever-present image in the forefront of their minds.

The same goes for all of Lachlan’s friends too, no doubt.

Speaking with Rugby News this week Sam, the Rats’ premiership-winning No.8, highlighted another constant in those years, one that played such an integral part in the healing process he labelled it “everything” to him and his family.

He was talking about the Warringah club itself.

While labelling a sporting club a family has become somewhat of a platitude in the modern era there’s no questioning the fact they oft act as the glue that holds a community together through tough times, not least for the Ward family.

“The club is everything to my family and I, everything,” Sam, who considered giving up rugby after his brother’s death before returning to the game to lead Warringah to an emotional premiership in 2017, said.

“Every day’s different but you never get over something like that and I still think of Lach every day, I always will.

“(But) the club is probably the reason I’m doing pretty well now and the reason why my family feels so supported … with everything else they’ve done for us.

“Just being with and around people who were there and who knew Lach and who know me, and understand that, is really nice.

“Often it’s not said, but you just know that’s there.”

That same club has taken another step in immortalising the affable, younger Ward brother, respectfully bringing Saturday’s match-ups against West Harbour together as the Lachlan Ward Memorial Round.

It’s a move Sam couldn’t find many words other than ‘very, very special’ to describe, largely because while his brother’s death ‘doesn’t feel like it happened that long ago’ he’s the first to admit the world doesn’t stop for anyone and change is another one of those constants.

There’s been plenty within the Warringah club too, and the enthusiasm and support behind this weekend’s acknowledgement and celebration of his younger brother’s life isn’t lost on the bullocking back-rower.

“Life does keep on rolling forward and you do need to keep up with that,” he said.

“Thinking back over the last few years it still doesn’t feel like it was that long ago that it happened. It wasn’t I guess, it’s still pretty recent.

“But I think about everything that’s happened since, there is so much, and it is quite scary how much and how quickly things, not necessarily move on, but how quickly they change, and move forward.

“There was quite a bit of change for us this year at Warringah, so for the club and players to want to come and acknowledge Lach and celebrate his life, it really is very, very special.”

Not that it’ll change anything in the way Ward prepares for the game, since his death Lachlan has served has his older brother’s source of inspiration before every game after all.

“I think about him before every game, every time when I’m in the sheds because I’m acutely aware that getting ready to play a game was one of the last things he ever did, so I definitely don’t ever take that for granted,” he said.

“He’ll be there in the forefront of my mind as he always is, so in those terms I won’t be doing anything differently.

“The lead-up to the game might be a bit different though, because my parents are going to be involved.”

His parents Jill and Murray will present Sam and his Rats’ teammates with their jerseys before the round 10 clash, one feature of the afternoon’s proceedings, all of which the Warringah club respectfully sought the Ward family’s approval for before green-lighting it.

After that Ward will lead his teammates onto Pittwater Park as they go in search of a sixth consecutive victory, kick-off in the Rats’ Shute Shield clash with West Harbour is at 3pm after the fourth grade Henderson Cup opening the Lachlan Ward Memorial Round from 9.10am.