'A larrikin, life of the party': St George Illawarra Dragons legend Matt Cooper on his mate Lance Thompson

Life of the party: Lance Thompson heads out for Dragons training in Wollongong alongside Mark Gasnier in 2005. Picture: Craig Golding
Life of the party: Lance Thompson heads out for Dragons training in Wollongong alongside Mark Gasnier in 2005. Picture: Craig Golding

A larrikin, the life of the party, an inspiration.

A legend.

Dragons legend Matt Cooper has paid tribute to his friend and former teammate Lance Thompson after he was found dead at his Cronulla unit on Thursday night. 

A report was being prepared for the coroner but police said there were no suspicious circumstances or evidence of self harm.

Thompson was 40-years-old.

Cooper played with Thompson for six years at the Dragons before Thompson left to join Cronulla.

The 2010 premiership-winning centre described Thompson as a loyal mate and teammate.

“It’s very sad. Obviously for myself being great mates with Lance. Played a lot of games with Thommo. He’s one of those blokes who was very colourful. A great person to be around. And on the field he played with passion,” Cooper said.

“He really loved the Dragons. He was one of those blokes who gave it all on the field. He played with heart. He really inspired me as a player. It’s a very sad day for the Dragons, Dragons fans and I suppose the whole NRL community.

“I used to watch Lance as a youngster. Even though he’s only a couple of years older than me. But he started playing when he was 17 so he came into grade really early. I just loved the way he played. That passion he played with. That’s what really inspired me and really had an effect on my career. Then when I started playing first grade we became really good mates. We used to hang around each other at training.”

Many have described Thompson as the life of the party. Cooper said the fond memories were not restricted to the playing field but training as well as after games. 

“Every time we used to win and we were on a bus trip he’d always be up the front of the bus and he’d get the microphone off the bus driver and sing a couple of songs,” Cooper said. 

“He was a larrikin, man. He was just great fun to be around. He just livened up the party and he’s going to be missed.

“Not only great moments on the field but just at training. We had a lot of good times at training. Me and him were really close and whenever… sometimes he had some crap stories but I used to laugh along with him just to make it funnier. So I had his back and he always had mine. That’s the type of person he was. Just like on the field, he was that type of player you just wanted to play with because you knew he’d have your back on the field. 

“He’s just a person you want to play with, a person you want to have around your club.”

Cooper said he was “shattered” when Thompson left the Dragons at the end of 2005 to join fierce local rivals Cronulla. But his memories of the tough back-rower as part of the strong teams to wear the red V in the early 2000s would remain. 

“I still can remember when he left the club. I was really shattered because we were such good mates. But these things happen. Lance had to do what he had to do. I still respected his decision to go to the Sharks. We were still good mates, that didn’t change a thing,” he said.

“My deepest condolences go out to his family and close friends. Because he’s that type of person who has made a lot of friends out of rugby league and especially at the Dragons.

“I know those couple of years ‘03 to ‘05 we had a special group of players there and I’m sure all those players are mourning this morning.”