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Carl Webb farewelled in touching tribute to a career, a life lived

Andrew Mathieson -

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are advised this article contains the name and image of an Indigenous person who has died.

While Carl Webb in the peak of his glory days was feared, in his final days he proved to be more fearless.

The rugby league hero tackled life until the end like he did to opponents in the game that he loved for what was a celebrated playing career.

Webb died after succumbing to a four-year battle with Motor Neurone Disease, but he ascended to the heavens leaving a lasting legacy.

Once diagnosed with the condition, the once hardman was left lingering wheelchair-bound for 18 months amid his decline where he was unable to perform basic daily tasks.

But that sort of undignified end to his life did not stop Webb from setting up a charity in his name and becoming the public face to raise funds, create awareness and fight the insidious disease that seemed as unforgiving, and as brutal, as the hits he often dished out on the field.

Webb, who had not only Aboriginal but also Maori roots, was laid to rest on Saturday in his Queensland hometown of Dalby after passing away four days before Christmas.

The partner and the father of four children was aged just 42.

Mourners at his funeral service that spilled out the door of the St John's Anglican Church into their hundreds listened to the softer side of the courageous Brisbane Broncos and North Queensland forward than his revered feats that also included 12 State of Origin clashes.

A touching Welcome to Country for the entitled "proud Aboriginal man" lightened the heavy hearts of family and friends as much as the eternal spirit of the man did.

"Be thankful and be grateful for this Country, and the ancestors of this Country for not only having us here today," Aboriginal Elder Toby Adams said, "but more importantly, for taking care of Carl's body as he makes his way safely to Sky Country."

The service later included an Aboriginal smoking ceremony at the gravesite – but also not without a haka to celebrate his New Zealand heritage that was performed by past Kiwi international Clinton Toopi, who headed a number of former NRL stars present.

The cultural farewell to Webb ended with a group of Wakka Wakka mob dancers seeing off his coffin commit into the ground.

It was said at the service that Webb's life was "cut short but well lived".

Lifelong friend Damon Keating testified to that among their hijinks together over the years.

"We were only given 42 years of this legend, but what a quality 42 (years) he gave us," he said.

Keating, one of the former Dalby Diehards teammates who formed a guard of honour to escort the pallbearers to Webb's final resting place, also said that his best mate had never complained once about languishing with MND.

That spoke volumes about how Webb was "too busy living", a quote that he reminded others that felt sorry for his condition.

"There is no truer statement that only the good die young," Keating added.

"All men die, but not all men get to really live."

That friendship would carry back to the innocent enough battles in the backyard.

"They'd pretend to play State of Origin when Carl was always Trevor Gillmeister," his uncle Ken Riddiford remembered.

Webb was also not just a footballer, but an undefeated heavyweight boxing pro after retiring from the NRL and, earlier, a state champion by the time he was 14.

That reputation of a competitor carried Webb well throughout the proud community of 12,000 residents that also count famous faces Alan Jones and Margot Robbie as their own.

"He was a character that was known and loved widely," Riddiford said.

But among the glowing tributes and smiles, there was sadness.

In spite of her tragic loss, partner Cass Jamieson was grateful just for the time she got to spend together with Webb.

But as the emotion of the occasion overawed Jamieson, her eulogy had to be read out.

"We taught each other patience, acceptance and strength, and we have overcome and dealt with more in our short time together than what most people do in a lifetime," it said.

"As much as I never wanted to let you go, I would do it all over again in a heartbeat."

Tributes were also read from his children.

Just like Webb was in a hardened State of Origin battle, Hunter felt that dad was just a pillar of strength.

"Not because of the footy you played or the boxing, but because of the courage you'd have to fight with a horrible disease," Hunter said.

"I remember every night before you went to bed, you would tell us a story just about us when we were toddlers and that even though you had this disease, you were the exact same man inside.

"As you got weaker and older, this didn't change.

"Dad has taught me that a man's spirit doesn't die if faced by an incurable disease, or a deadly virus, but only if he is forgotten.

"So I ask that my dad is not forgotten, but rather remembered."

That certainly won't happen after Webb's former clubs agreed to pay tribute to his life in their next NRL clash on Good Friday in April.

Brooklyn Webb was convinced that dad was always completely impervious to pain as the falls got more often and more dire.

That fills her soul that the larger-than-life figure will forever be around.

"He never seemed the slightest bit bothered, neither did he cry," Brooklyn recalled.

"I still see my dad in the sunsets, in the strong winds and the rain, and I always know that he will be with me forever looking down and helping me every step of the way."

But when all was said and done, Reverend David Browne, who conducted the service, summed up who Carl Webb was to the people that mattered to him.

"He was a champion friend, a champion son, a champion father, and also a champion partner," he said.

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