By STEVE SPINKS
LITTLE did Ian Froggett know that a court appointment would lead him to a sentence of more than 20 years ... playing rugby union for Ballina.
But after more than 500 grade games for the Seahorses and a rugby career spanning two countries and four decades, Froggett has been released from his sentence and has announced his retirement after the Ballina third grade team was knocked out in the Far North Coast minor semi-finals last month.
There are many stories surrounding the man they call Whisper, but it was the way the 50-year-old came to play for Ballina that has always been a source of much fun for his clubmates.
"I got into a bit of trouble when I first got up here," Froggett chuckled.
"It wasn't a big deal, it was only minor, but I was at the courthouse and met one of the solicitors Ian Lord.
"I was wearing a Singleton rugby jumper and he said I had better come and play rugby with Ballina and he'll look after me."
Froggett agreed, and in a twist, knocked Lord out of first grade by taking his position.
"He's ok Ian, he was getting old anyway," the flanker laughed.
A former Auckland junior from Patatoetoe, Froggett was good enough to make the possibles and probables for the junior All Blacks before injury curtailed his representative career.
After missing out on higher honours and with a young family to look after, the New Zealander moved to Singleton to work where some of his family was already living.
But the move didn't stop his rugby career.
He played for six seasons with Singleton and also played for Newcastle at the NSW Country Championships.
When he moved to Ballina and was snared by the Seahorses, Froggett then represented Far North Coast and won six consecutive best and fairest awards for his club.
Unfortunately, he never tasted the success of a first grade premiership.
Froggett retired from first grade rugby at the end of the 1991 season and the Seahorses won their first first grade premiership in 1992, the same year the flanker won the first of his seven third grade premierships.
But time has finally caught up with the energetic flanker.
"I love playing rugby and third grade is harder than first grade because it's harder to read and you have a lot of people who have never played before so there is a lot of off-side and things like that," Froggett said.
"But I've had a few injuries which has stopped me and I just can't recover like I used to.
"Plus I'm not going in as hard as I used to."
Froggett hopes to continue being a part of the Ballina club in some capacity for many years to come even if it won't be on the field.
And as for his nickname Whisper?
"A bloke from Singleton called Spider Kelly gave me that name," Froggett chuckled.
"The first time I ever played for Singleton I played three games in one day.
"We were all sitting around afterwards having a drink and all the boys were buying me beers and I thought what a great bunch of blokes they were.
"But then they all stood around looking at their empty glasses and then Spider said 'Hey Whisper, it's your shout'."
It stuck, even through his 20 year sentence of playing rugby for Ballina.