Standing by him
“I hope Suli is looking down on us”
Stand by me – they were the words sung many times by Suli Niulala to members of the Trinity community.
This time they took him at his word. They stood by him, in spirit at least, singing those words back to him, and to each other.
The occasion was the rugby firsts home match against Knox, the first outing for a massed rendition of the tune that become the signature song of the much-loved Junior School teacher who died last year of liver cancer.
Just a day after Trinitarians pledged more than $600,000 for an indigenous/islander scholarship in Suli’s name, the School gathered to sing “his” song before and after the rugby match. Like the scholarship, it’s hoped the theme song becomes part of Trinity culture.
Hundreds of blazered students stood on the steps of No. 1 Oval and belted it out, shoulder to shoulder and arm in arm, just like the first XV before them wearing the green and white.
No-one sang louder or prouder than the rugby-loving teacher’s eldest son Sam (12St), the number eight, who delivered a welcome to the crowd in reconciliation week, and spoke of the special reconciliation jerseys being worn by the team.
It was just as well that he spoke before the match rather than after, for his words may not have found a way through his tears at an emotional finale.
Headmaster Tim Bowden said he hoped the singing of the song would become part of Trinity folklore.
“By singing it to the players on the field, the boys commemorate Suli and perpetuate something he left us with,” he said.
“It’s a tangible expression of the fact that the boys on the field are our boys, and we stand with them, though they’re the ones taking the hits and fighting hard.”
Band Master Chris Aschman, a driving force behind the idea and the School’s singing rehearsals, said: “This is the most meaningful thing I’ve done probably in my 20 years at Trinity.
“Suli was special. He shone like a beacon. I hope he is looking down on us. He would want to give everyone here a hug.
“It’s a song of support. I had a vivid epiphany around the time of his passing that the song represented how he cared about the boys and everyone at Trinity. You could always depend on him.
“I was searching for how we could show our love and respect for him in a way that would last forever.”
View the debut of ‘Stand by me’ below.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Suli made an impression far beyond the gates of Trinity.
In Term 2 of 2023, a select group of Year 6 boys from both the Prep and Junior School, combined to represent the School in fixtures against Scone Grammar, the Armidale School and Bishop Druitt College, Coffs Harbour. This North Coast Tour of Football and Rugby is an annual event and Suli accompanied the athletes on the trip as recently as 2022.
James Bremner, Prep Sportsmaster, shared that Suli left such an impression on those at Scone Grammar, they wanted to do something to honour him.
“Such was the impression that Suli made, that Scone Grammar approached us and asked if we could play for a trophy in his honour,” he said.
This year, the group competed for the Suli Niulala Memorial trophy for the first time Unfortunately, the Trinity team was not able to win, going down 59 – 5.
“It was fitting that Scone were able to earn the victory with quality Primary Schoolboy Rugby, something that Suli was passionate for and would have loved to see,” Mr Bremner reflected.
Suli’s legacy carries on in so many ways, including through the selection of his son Sam Niulala alongside Orly Hatton-Ward, to represent the NSW Waratahs Under 18 Academy sides.
Orly and Sam both started in the 2nd XV game, which they won 26-25 over the QLD Reds Academy. Sam was man of the match. Orly also played off the bench for the 1st XV coached by our Director of Rugby, Mick Snowden.
Known throughout Trinity and the wider community for his love of Rugby, Suli was passionate about the game and it’s clear that he had a huge impact on the game here at Trinity and further afield, with his infectious enthusiasm.