By GREG WHITE
MENTION the Balmain Tigers and visions come to mind of gentle fullback Keith Barnes, and inspirational lock, Wayne Pearce.
Mention the Tigers in this town and Barry Nicholls gets instant recognition.
Nicholls has retired after more than a decade as the highly visible head trainer of Orara Valley with a season or two at Sawtell thrown in there somewhere.
But it won't be a complete severance from a lifetime in sport.
"We've talked about taking a mentoring role in junior league, guiding the individual club trainers," Nicholls said.
"Plus, I'll still oversee the Level One sports training courses."
And of course, there's touch football, with Barry recently appointed head medical officer with Hunter-Western Hornets, in charge of up to 26 teams competing in titles around Australia.
Not to mention various league rep teams up to Country level are still to tell Nicholls they're no longer interested in obtaining the benefit of his experience and expertise.
"What retirement?" he laughs.
"Never been so busy, but at least this time, everything I do will be totally on my terms."
But what about those Tigers, one game away from another grand final this weekend?
"Saints will be hard if they play to potential," he admits, "but if it's tight, Tigers by about four."
Wherever Nicholls has lived, one room has always been turned into a 'Tiger temple.'
"That's Balmain, not Wests Tigers," indicating the union is a sore point.
"Only have two items from the joint venture."
Jumpers, footballs, videos and souvenir programs are everywhere and instead of storing items away, he rotates each treasure for equal time on display.
Even a blue singlet in the style worn by his unrelated namesake, the late Laurie Nicholls.
Enter the room, close your eyes and you can imagine the fabled Balmain barracker punching the air to shouts of 'tiger, tiger..."
It began when the Albury boy with an Aussie Rules background attended Leichardt Oval in 1967 to see the Rabbitohs hand a 62-3 thumping to the home side.
"That's when the love affair began," he said, a love developing further when he became a club trainer in 1983.
"We were paid about $1800 for the season," he remembered.
'Now it's about $28,000 and almost full time, but you really do it for love."
Asked to name the greatest Tiger of his era and "Larry Corowa" is the immediate reply.
"He could do the impossible and make it look easy."
From his time in the local league, plenty of great names are mentioned, but then: "Brett Davis was exceptional."
"The 2003 Orara side was about the best and Matty Donovan was the biggest challenge to patch up.
"Lots of little niggling injuries, yet Matt always came through on game day."
In 18 months, Nicholls will retire from State Rail and is planning a trip around Australia with wife, Denise.
Included will be some kind of permanent link when venturing into non-league territory to keep abreast of events in Tigerland.