Rugby league unites to farewell brave Jon Mannah Josh Massoud The Daily Telegraph January 22, 2013 12:00AM WHEN all hope deserted him, the only comfort Jon Mannah craved was a chance to say goodbye. To depart on his terms. Mannah got what he so richly deserved last Friday morning, inviting dozens of relatives to his bedside at St Vincent's Hospital in the pre-dawn gloom. Yesterday was their chance to farewell him. The traffic snarls began to gather around The Faith Church in Auburn an hour before the 11am service began. Lollypop men were hired to control the parade of 4WDs and buses, most packed with stoney-faced friends from rugby league and other walks of life. Latecomers couldn't even get within sight of the yellow barricades surrounding the church, instead forced to walk several blocks from parking lots in nearby estates. And when they all gathered inside, an adjacent basketball court had to be filled with temporary seating to accommodate a 2500-strong crowd that included former Sharks and Eels teammates, as well as interim NRL boss Shane Mattiske. An enormous turn out for an even grander legacy. When he stepped up to the pulpit to begin Mannah's eulogy, older brother Tim paused and admired the expanse of faces that stretched before him. Below was the casket, capped in a pile of white roses. Yet the immediacy didn't unnerve Tim. His brother had shown such guts and class in battling cancer to the very end. This was Tim's chance to prove the same strength lives on. "Jon always shined when he was thrown into the deep end," Tim said. "He always lifted to another level when situations seemed hardest. "And that's exactly how he handled cancer. "Even in his last hours, he was comforting us. He had a big smile on his face and kept saying 'Jesus loves us'. "He's in a much better place now. He's in much less pain. The legacy Jon left inspires me to be a better person." Those words provoked tears from the throng, but Tim was intent on celebrating - rather than grieving - this extraordinary life. He told of their backyard footy games against teams of older cousins as kids. Of his secret envy toward Mannah's God-given physique and fitness. Of their lone clash at NRL level, when Cronulla travelled to Parramatta Stadium in 2009 - just months before Mannah's diagnosis with Hodgkin's lymphoma. "He was never as big or as fat as me, but he always had a bigger heart," Tim said. "He used to always frustrate me, just how physically fit he was. "Before the pre-season he would do nothing and eat whatever he liked and still be better than me. He had a body I could only dream of. We played against one another and he beat me there too. He also gave me a monster wedgie. He was his own man from then on." When Mannah discovered he would join Tim at Parramatta in 2012, he celebrated with a shirtless ride on a mechanical bull. The boys were living together at the time in Tim's Northmead home, where the pain of Mannah's relapse emerged during pre-season training. "He would come back from training and curl up in a ball," Tim said. "He'd be in that much pain that he stopped eating. "He did that for weeks and weeks and weeks. "It blew me away. My respect for him went to another level. "It's one thing to put on a brave front for everyone else. "But I can tell you Jon was exactly the same behind closed doors." Such defiance saw Mannah go abseiling - or even preaching on the streets - just days after another round of chemotherapy. But there was no clearer illustration than on his death bed last Friday morning. Doctors offered him morphine, but Mannah refused so his mind could be clear for those final goodbyes. A slideshow of Mannah's life revealed the devastating physical manifestation of his suffering. His face barely aged, but his body - once so strong - had shrunk visibly over the closing 12 months. It was a chilling reality check, particularly for the dozens of young footballers who must have left with a realisation of how fickle their gifts can be. Continuing the eulogy from Tim, eldest brother Daniel revealed: "When the doctors told Jon there was nothing they could do, he sat down with Tim and said, 'I'm not afraid of dying'. "Even when he was staring at death he still wasn't worried about himself." There was just enough time for a final exchange with his mother, Abbey. When everything went black, Mannah asked why someone had turned off the light switch in his ward. "No," she replied. "That's the shadow of death, but it will soon be bright." Mannah replied: "Yes bright . . . It's bright." They were his final words. Floating away not to darkness. But light.