By David Skipworth
Not many people would get away with interrupting Warriors coach Stephen Kearney while he’s delivering a team talk.
Fewer still would dare to continue to speak over the top of the notoriously stern former Kiwis back rower and World Cup winning coach.
But Mark Dekker – or ‘Mark Carter’ as he prefers to be known – is the exception to the rule, and the one person guaranteed to turn Kearney’s frown upside down.
The 31-year-old with down syndrome began working with the Warriors football staff earlier this season and has been welcomed into the club’s inner sanctum in his role as the team’s official water runner.
The longtime Warriors supporter enjoys exclusive access to the players and is regularly included in their team huddles, joining in their breathing exercises and sharing a few motivational words in the lead-up to game day.
He picks and chooses his moments to speak and feels comfortable enough to interject – even if Kearney is delivering a fierce verbal spray to his players.
“We might be getting a growling and Mark will just walk into the huddle and stand under Mooks’ arm or start talking over someone,” explained front-rower James Gavet.
“Everyone will be grinning and you glance over at Mooks and even he’ll give us a look that says, ‘I really want to be angry but I can’t right now’.
“It’s usually all business and there’s not a lot of time to joke around, but Mark brings out a different side and can lighten the mood.”
Mark Dekker in his role with the Warriors. Photo / Greg Bowker
Dekker’s connection with the Warriors began earlier this year when Kiwi Ferns playmaker and club community relations coordinator, Georgia Hale, offered him the opportunity to get involved.
Twice a week, rain, hail or shine, Carter and his caregiver, Leighton Swann, can be found at Mt Smart Stadium, helping Warriors team manager Laurie Hale prepare water bottles and equipment at training.
The club issued Dekker with his own timesheet that he fills out after each shift and his contribution to the club gives him enjoyment and adds some structure to his week.
“He comes into most sessions so he’s got a bit of a presence amongst the group and staff,” said Kearney.
“He helps fill the water bottles and the boys have embraced him. He does a pretty good job.”
Prior to the Warriors’ round three win over Canberra, Dekker was invited to share a few words in the team huddle, when he borrowed a line from Kiwi social media star William Waiirua: “Do the mahi, get the treats.”
“The boys were all buzzing and came and told us what he’d said,” explained Swann.
“Stephen came over afterwards and gave Mark a big hug and said ‘I think we’ll stick with that saying for the season’.
“Everyone at the club has taken to Mark and shown him a lot of love. I’ve got a lot of time for the Hale family, they’ve got big hearts and Lozza needs to be commended for what he does with Mark.
“It’s so awesome to see the genuine care and love they have for him and whanau environment they have created.”
While most Warriors fans would nominate club icons such as Stacey Jones, Manu Vatuvei, or star halfback Shaun Johnson as their favourite player, Dekker is taken by Mark Carter – the former All Black who switched codes to play just eight games for the club back in 1996.
“That’s the name that he associates with and Carter’s Warriors number was 31,” explained Swann.
“Every time he goes into the sheds he shows the boys number 31 and the name Mark Carter.
“It might not be the most popular choice but its Mark’s choice and he likes the name as well.”
Dekker is particularly close with Gavet, along with wing Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad and ISP centre Junior Pauga, but has won the entire club over through his infectious sense of humour, positivity and work ethic.
Mark Dekker greets Warriors forward James Gavet. Photo / Greg Bowker
“They’re a good team,” said Dekker. “Rugby league is a great game and they are my good mates. It’s awesome.
“We work hard but when you do the mahi, you get the treats.”
Warriors captain Roger Tuivasa-Sheck says Dekker’s presence helps keep the players grounded and serves as a reminder of how the club can help people out in the community.
“It just puts things in perspective having him here,” said Tuivasa-Sheck.
“He’s a big supporter of the club and no matter what happens or goes on he always turns up with a smile on his face which keeps the boys happy.”
Copyright: New Zealand Herald.