THE Bathurst Bushrangers will begin their 2014 pre-season later this month with heavy hearts after two former players passed away within the space of a week late in 2013.
Life member Darren “Big Daz” Bull was killed in an abseiling accident in the Blue Mountains on December 21, falling to his death after trying to rescue his girlfriend who was having difficulty at the time.
It was her first abseiling experience but Bull himself was a regular.
After his fall, Mr Bull's girlfriend was left stranded on a cliff-face for around four hours with his fate unknown before she was rescued, and the sad task of recovering his body began.
It followed the death three days earlier of 2008 grand final player Hugh Alexander.
Alexander was killed in a car accident while on his way to Bathurst to attend a graduation ceremony.
He spent a season with the Bushrangers after his family moved to Lithgow from Victoria, and later attended CSU where he completed a teaching degree before he began his career at Tooleybuc Central School in the Riverina.
Bull never pulled on a Bushrangers jersey but was a stalwart of the former CSU Bulldogs club where he was an extremely popular member, his tall frame making him one of the better ruckmen in the Central West competition. When the Bulldogs merged with the then Bathurst Eagles, any life members of either club automatically picked up the same honour with the Bushrangers.
His career with the Bulldogs finished in 2002.
"I never played with Daz but I definitely played against him, he was so tall and pretty easy to remember because of his height," Bushrangers committee member and club stalwart Brian Matheson said.
"From what I know of him he was a lovely bloke and very well liked, you never want to see a young bloke lose his life like this."
Matheson played alongside Alexander and says that the losses will put a tinge of sadness in the club's preparations for the coming season.
"Hugh only played for a year with us as a young fellow but he was a very talented footballer," he explained.
"He went straight into first grade even though he was only in year 12 at the time. He went away to university and eventually ended up at CSU but I think he played some rugby at the time.
"From what I can gather he was on his way back to Bathurst for a ceremony the next day. It is obviously very sad for anyone who knew him and played with him during his time here."
Matheson said that at this stage there had been no particular memorials planned but already he is certain that the club will acknowledge the pair during round one of the 2014 competition.
"At the moment we haven't had a metting to discuss anything but that will happen next week," he said.
"We have had a few players pass on over the years, these guys are not the first and quite unfortunately probably won't be the last which is very sad. We do have an award named after one of the women who has been involved with the club.
"I'm not sure what we'll decide on but I know that we will definitely wear black armbands in the opening game.
"It is just so sad to see young guys pass away at that age. Hugh was a very nice kid and was a qualified school teacher and it will be very hard for his students too."
Some of the tributes on Bull's Facebook page summed up what he meant to those he spent time with.
"Daz, a true gentleman and all round great guy. You were the heart and soul of the CSU Bulldogs during our time at Bathurst. You will not be forgotten. Rip buddy," posted one former team-mate.
"I remember my first time coaching at CSU and seeing 'Big Daz' thinking, 'I've got to get him as my ruckman.' Together as ruckman and rover we gave opposition hell, I wouldn't shut up and was constantly in his ear," posted former CSU coach Simon Cross.