15 April, 2024

Terry Aqualina's legacy lives on

A BELOVED local rugby league pioneer has been remembered for his strong will and dedication as a Mareeba Gladiators coach after he passed away from a two-year battle with prostrate and esophagus cancer.

Terry Aqualina's legacy lives on - feature photo

Terry Aqualina was born in Mareeba on 19 January 1963 and grew up playing junior football for the Easts Tigers and the Gladiators.

Terry lived and breathed football. He dedicated hours of his time to becoming a stronger and more fierce player.

During his playing career, Terry represented Cairns and played Foley Shield football at Under 18, Under 20, and senior levels, mainly as a hooker or in the back row.

Despite not being the largest forward on the field, weight training was a significant component of his personal training regimen.

On the field, Terry was the kind of player teammates wanted beside them due to his toughness, attitude, effort, and refusal to be intimidated by opposing players, regardless of their ability or credentials.

He was all in for the club, extending an open invitation to teammates for off-season weight sessions that were held at his place.

During the season, additional Monday and Wednesday fitness sessions and weights were also conducted at his residence. Anyone recovering from an injury requiring a rehab program was "advised" by Terry.

He was an integral part of the successful Mareeba Gladiators teams of the late 80s and early 90s, making it in numerous semi-finals and playing lock forward in the first Mareeba team to win a CDRL premiership in 1992.

While discussing football with Terry was inevitable, those who listened could discern that his self-reflection and the lessons he learned contributed significantly to his ability to become a successful football coach and mentor to young men aspiring to improve their football skills and be part of a successful team.

As a football coach, he wanted his young players to experience the same rewards, camaraderie, and sense of accomplishment that he did, along with the lifelong friendships that accompany shared success on the football field.

During his playing days, Terry took pride in his defence – therefore, as a coach, solid defence became the cornerstone of his coaching philosophy.

He fostered a strong training ethic in his young players, focusing on the importance of hard work in defence.

When Terry assumed the role of A-Grade coach for the struggling Mareeba Gladiators team in 1997 – a team that had won only a handful of games in the previous two seasons – he led a group of young players to immediate success, overseeing a highly successful six-year period for the Gators.

During his time in Innisfail, Terry coached the Cairns Foley Shield team to a Grand Final appearance in 2004, following a victory over a Cowboys state league team in a pre-season game. In 2006, he was honored as the CDRL Coach of the Year.

Many of the young players he coached and mentored went on to represent at Foley Shield, North Queensland, and Rangers levels, with several progressing to play in the state league and NRL.

The significant turnout of former players from across Australia and New Zealand at a recent reunion stood as a testament to the respect and high regard in which Terry was held by those he influenced and worked with.

In both life and football, Terry was known for his directness and forthright opinions.

For him, things were rarely gray – instead they were typically black and white.

He believed in calling a spade a spade without sugar-coating, offering honest feedback without fear or favour. Anyone acquainted with Terry has likely received his “honest feedback” at some point, whether solicited or not.


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