When I was young, my dad used to tell me that the most important thing was to not give up. Not that you had to be good. Not that you had to be smart, or fair, or kind. But that the best quality a person could have was that they kept going, even when times were hard, even when everyone had nothing. He’d call me “a little Aussie battler” before John Howard made the phrase take on a different tinge. Through all the things I’ve sucked at in this life (so, everything), it’s meant no matter the situation, I’ve always kept trying. It’s no wonder I can’t give up on the Raiders. It’s no wonder I’ve always respected Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad.
If by now you haven’t heard, Nicoll-Klokstad is going home. The only problem is that home is not Canberra. He told his teammates today, according to the Daily Telegraph. From 2023 he’ll be a Warrior, returning back to the club that he debuted for, either to play centre, or cover for the seemingly inevitable departure of Reece Walsh to a Queensland team. No human should begrudge the move. After being split from his kids by water and the virus, anyone with a social media account was able to see that all Charnze wanted was to be with them. As someone who starts missing his children midway through a work day, I can’t fathom how he made it through literal years. Football is a career, and sometimes your family make sacrifices for it. But sometimes you can make a change for your family. If this can make him feel a little bit more whole, then I wish him nothing but the best.
We are nothing but grateful for what Nicoll-Klokstad brought to the club. In a cynical time when every player is treated like an asset, and player agents treat loyalty like it’s transitive, Charnze was purity personified. A human golden retriever. All he wanted to do was play footy and give his all, and you genuinely felt he’d keep running until either his body gave out or the coach stepped in. He tore his body to shreds for the Raiders, strafing across in cover defence to save tries. Bringing down bigger men on the goal line. Boring into defensive lines with a running style that was like a Supercar swerving down the track. He continuously threw himself into the defence with a courage most of us wish we had. It’s not hard to see his injuries in recent times as a consequence of the way he sacrificed his joints for the good of the Raiders. Even off the field, word kept emerging of just how he’d help out people reaching out to him in his DMs, on the street, or after a game. It seemed he recognised that he was part of a community, not a footy team, and extended his effort beyond the field to anyone who needed it.
His performances throughout 2019 and 2020 should be the stuff of legends. After being an afterthought in the leadup to 2019, he abruptly became one of the most important parts of that side. Much is made of how that team took on John Bateman’s fighting character, but there was plenty of Nicoll-Klokstad in there too. So much of the success that year, and subsequently, came from a knowledge that when players needed to ask themselves honestly if they could make another effort, Charnze would always answer yes. The team became the answer to that question, overcoming more talented sides because his spirit was embodied in the whole.
There are so many moments that stand out. Many will remember how after a stunning performance against the Tigers in 2019 he told ABC’s (and Raider Review with Blake and the Pork’s) Tim Gore that the only bit of his body that didn’t hurt was his heart. Coming out of another player’s mouth that might have seemed saccharine. From Nicoll-Klokstad is came across as genuine, as if you could feel the warmth of his character being the heat pack trying to comfort his bruised bones. In the 2019 grand final he gave us so much that his body effectively shut down. Before every grand final at any level of sport they’ll tell you the only way to avoid regrets is to make sure you have nothing left to give. I hope Charnze knows he may be the first person in history to live up to that literally. Even in 2021 the Canberra season cratered the minute he was injured by Viliame Kikau, as if the team didn’t know how to function without his soul imbued in them. It’s rare a player with such little impact on the shiny bits of offence can be so integral to success, but then that was the deal with Charnze. It wasn’t so much that he did the dirty work. It was that he did all the dirty work.
Even in his departure Nicoll-Klokstad is being selfless, removing Coach Stuart from a hard decision between him and his understudy, Xavier Savage. Reporting earlier in the year suggested Charnze had taken him under his wing, and now the protege will have a clear path forward with the support of the team. I hope the club recognises this, and that his departure isn’t tinged with the awkward sadness of those of Hodgson, Sutton and Williams. I hope we as a fanbase remember his centrality to the best period of Canberra rugby league in literal decades. He should be considered a Raiders legend. I know there will be times in the future where I’ll pour a whisky and put on a game for 2019 or 2020 and marvel at the motor of a man that was more heart than talent. Forgive me for being lame, but it’ll get musty in Sportress HQ.
We will miss Charnze, as a club, as fans, and as people. The determiniation with which he pursued the game was part of the reason people were drawn to him. As fans we demand so much of footballers, but the first and main point is to not give up. And he never did that. Not on a play, not on a game, not on a season. He left the everything on the field, no matter what state his body was in. When we all say goodbye later this year, it should be remembered he is the one that gave his all. Not nearly everything. But every inch of his effort. And for that we will respect him as a footballer, as a man, and with his decision to go home, as a father.
And maybe when my kids are old enough to understand, I’ll also tell them that the most important thing is not giving up. And I’ll point to Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad as evidence why.
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