Top 10 moments in Kiwi league

By Steve Deane

White City, London will go down as the venue where living legend Ruben Wiki became the most-capped test player in league history. Photo / Getty Images
White City, London will go down as the venue where living legend Ruben Wiki became the most-capped test player in league history. Photo / Getty Images

The Kiwis may have a history of winning a few and losing ... well, a lot, but that doesn't mean they don't produce their share of truly glorious moments.

There have been successes - series wins here and there, a World Cup and a Tri-Nations title - but just as many great Kiwis moments have been born out of defeat.

As our brave underdogs once more head off to plug away on foreign fields, Supersport reminisces about 10 of the great moments of the great game.

1 The Lonergan Shuffle, Melbourne 1991

The image of Dean Lonergan's carcass spasming uncontrollably after he knocked himself out in a head clash with Steve Roach in the opening moments of the epic 1991 victory over the Kangaroos is etched in the memory of every Kiwis fan old enough to be in front of the goggle box at the time.

Lonergan and Roach had history, with the pair clashing violently in a pre-season match between Auckland and Balmain.

Lonergan came off best in the punch-up, with Roach resorting to spitting at his tormentor. Heading into the first test in Melbourne it was all on.

"I was determined to go out and bash him, but I went too hard and had my head too low," Lonergan recalls.

Roach ended up with more than 20 stitches, while an unconscious Lonergan performed what was almost certainly the only piece of international league action ever to spawn a dancefloor craze: the Lonergan Shuffle was born.

The Kiwi forward was carried off the field but, worried he would lose his spot to replacement Duane Mann, he returned after 10 minutes to play one of his finest games in national colours - not that he remembers it.

Richie Blackmore inspired a famous Kiwis win but the concussed Lonergan couldn't celebrate, being ordered to bed by the team doctor. Peter "The Mad Butcher" Leitch sat watch over him as, out in the nightclubs, the Lonergan Shuffle was taking off.

"I've heard there were loads of people doing it," Lonergan said.

2 Kidwell cuts big Willie down to size, Auckland 2006

Okay so the Kiwis lost 30-18. Who's really going to remember that in a couple of decades? No, the only thing the 17,500 who were at Mt Smart and those watching at home will ever remember was the moment when David Kidwell went from honest backrow toiler to league immortal with one crushing hit on Willie Mason.

Hands up who didn't jump up and scream "Take that f***er" as Mason hit the turf, while a snarling Kidwell stood over the fallen giant asking him if he fancied a bit more. Take them down, fairies.

Kidwell's hit turned Mt Smart into a seething cauldron of testosterone.

It's doubtful a New Zealand sporting crowd has ever been so inflamed by a single act. There was even a great subplot, with stories circulating that Kidwell had been enraged by Mason acting the goat during the pre-match haka. Sadly, they weren't true.

"I didn't even know about it," Kidwell, whose hardman immortality suffered a minor knock when he suffered a season-ending knee injury while playing with his daughter, confirmed this week at a charity lunch.

3 Kevin Tamati and Greg Dowling hit the tunnel first test, Brisbane 1985

Another iconic moment to come out of a defeat, Tamati's stoush with Dowling came in an era when no one ever dreamed of calling for a bit more biff to be introduced into the game.

The fight, termed a disgrace at the time by a media nonetheless happy to glorify the violence in countless re-runs and re-tellings (such as this), had been coming for a while. Before the series Dowling had rubbished Wellington hardman Tamati in a magazine article, describing him as an over-rated typical New Zealand prop - "short and wide". A teammate gave Tamati a copy of the article shortly before the match and the rest was history.

Tamati, though, wasn't all fists and elbows. When he effectively called time on his international career in 1988 by accepting a job at an English club, his letter to the NZRL read: "I write this with a tickle in my throat and a tear in my eye, knowing my ties with New Zealand test football are finished."

4 The Big O carves The King a new one, Auckland 1985

Olsen Filipaina was ridiculed as an out-of-shape reserve grader by the Aussie press heading into the 1985 three-test series against the Kiwis - but his mum knew differently.

Coach Graham Lowe consulted Filipaina's mum, who assured him that her boy was up to the job of marking the great Wally Lewis.

Olsen's Mum 1-Aussie Press 0 was the score on that one. Filipaina was the dominant figure in a series the Kiwis to this day will wonder how they failed to win.

He scored a try, set up another with a bomb to Hugh McGahan and kicked four goals in a 20-26 loss in the first test at Brisbane, and again dominated Lewis in the second test in which the Kiwis were again denied by a late John Ribot try, losing 10-6.

In the third test at Carlaw Park the Kiwis finally had their revenge with an 18-0 victory. A reluctant goal-kicker, Filipaina didn't miss a kick in the series until late in the third test.

"Perhaps the greatest compliment paid to Filipaina was to be that he was completely ignored by Lewis in two biographies written about his career," wrote league historian John Coffey.

"Clearly Lewis did not want to be reminded of how he fared against a player who that season spent much of his time in the Eastern Suburbs reserve grade."

Filipaina scored 108 points from six tries and 44 goals in 26 tests for the Kiwis, playing 50 games in all. He was also name-checked by David Tua on Wheel of Fortune, with Tua asking for an "O for Olsen" - a line most Kiwis heard as "O for awesome". Check it out on YouTube.

5 The whole of 1971

What a year. The Kiwis thrashed a superstar-studded Aussie mob at Carlaw Park by 24-3, won a series in England for the first time, then dealt to France.

The famous names that filled this side still tumble from the lips - the captain Roy Christian, brilliant wing Phillip Orchard, brave halfback Kenny Stirling, the gifted baby of the team Dennis Williams, goalkicking prop Henry Tatana, big bad Doug Gailey ... the rest of the 70s were hopeless but 1971 made it all worthwhile.

6 Stacey flies in to win the 2005 Tri Nations

"I'm buggered," was Jones' first response to reporters outside the Kiwis' dressing room after guiding his side to a shock 24-0 final victory over the Kangaroos at Elland Road in Leeds. But what he actually said to coach Brian McClennan in the dressing room at halftime was "I'm f***ed".

"I didn't know what to say. I just patted him on the back and said you'll be right", McClennan said.

He was, too. Jones had made a return trip to New Zealand in the space of little over a week to attend the birth of his son, arriving back in England in time for a match the Kangaroos were expected to win easily.

Incredibly, Jones turned in one of his finest displays in a Kiwis jumper.

His tactical kicking had the Aussies in fits, keeping them pinned in their own half, while Paul Whatuira and Manu Vatuvei seized upon pinpoint bombs to score vital tries.

Jones' four goals were the icing on the cake in a 24-0 victory that crushed forever the myth that the Kangaroos can't be beaten in the big games.

7 Billy Slater throws away the World Cup, Brisbane 2008

With 19 minutes to go in the World Cup final and the Kiwis holding an 18-16 lead, Kangaroos fullback Billy Slater fielded an innocuous Benji Marshall kick on the full inside his own 20.

Manu Vatuvei and Jerome Ropati converged on Slater, who tried to beat Vatuvei on the outside.

He almost did it, but a Vatuvei shove sent him towards the sideline. Slater panicked and hurled the ball in-field, straight into the hands of Marshall, who coasted away to score the decisive try.

The Kiwis mobbed Marshall as he ran towards the Lang Park crowd to celebrate.

It was the celebration of a team that knew it was on its way to victory.

Slater, named player of the tournament, threw a right tizz, refusing to be interviewed until a week after the match.

8 Ruben goes from great to greatest, England 2005

Loftus Rd, the home of English soccer club Queens Park Rangers, might seem a strange venue for a piece of league history to unfold.

But the pokey little ground in White City, London will go down as the venue where living legend Ruben Wiki became the most-capped test player in league history.

Wiki had tied the record of 46, jointly held Great Britain's Mick Sullivan and Garry Schofield, in a two-point defeat by the Kangaroos in Auckland a fortnight earlier. Fittingly, the Kiwis smashed the Poms 42-26 in front of a sell-out crowd of 15,000.

A loss to Great Britain and a victory over France followed, meaning Wiki's 50th cap was the Tri-Nations final victory over Australia at Elland Rd.

At the press conference after the match Wiki turned up with a video camera, recording the moment for posterity. His final tally of 55 caps should stand for some time, with Darren Lockyer the nearest active player on 45 tests.

Wiki's typical response when asked about the record was to quip: "Yeah, well I would have had heaps more too if it wasn't for those suspensions."

True, but then again, some of those blokes he hit a touch high would probably have a few more teeth left if they hadn't had the misfortune to come across the rampaging Wiki.

9 Gary Prohm outplays Ray Price, Brisbane 1983

No list of great Kiwi deeds would be complete without mention of Prohm. So says Graham Lowe, who first coached a player seen as the blueprint for the modern league athlete as a junior at Otahuhu.

Throw Prohm any jersey, and he would do the job. He started as a hooker but of his 23 tests, he played nine on the wing, seven at centre, five at loose forward and two in the second row.

But it was as loose forward that he enjoyed his finest moment, out-playing Kangaroos legend Ray Price as the Kiwis won 19-12 at Lang Park in 1983.

The decisive moment came when Prohm slipped back to fullback at a scrum, befuddling the Aussies in the build-up to Graeme West's try.

But it wasn't all fun and laughs for Prohm, who now runs a car repair business in Royal Oak. In 1985 he had a crucial try ruled out for a forward pass by French referee Julian Rascagneres in a 10-6 defeat to the Kangaroos at Carlaw Park.

And he was also penalised for a punch in the third test against Britain that same year, allowing Lee Crooks to kick a goal for a 6-6 draw that allowed the Poms to square the series.

10 Mark Graham leads the boys back out, England 1985

His face rearranged by an elbow and barely able to walk following an ankle injury, Mark Graham made quite a sight heading up the tunnel in the first test against Great Britain.

The Kiwis' most gifted player of the time, Graham was no stranger to copping a decent hiding.

"In those days it was different," recalls his coach Graham Lowe. "You looked at the programme and tried to get their best player out of the game and they did the same."

With Graham injured, the Poms must have thought it was a case of job done. But Lowe wasn't having any of that, telling Graham to lead the side out for the second half. Kevin Tamati replaced him at the first scrum but Graham's bravery had sent out a message. The Kiwis hung on to win 24-22.

"To this day I'm not sure if I'm proud or ashamed of the decision to send him back out there," Lowe said.

Graham's series looked over, but after the Kiwis were flogged in the second test he made a dramatic comeback in the third, scoring the only try in a 6-6 draw. "The courage of the guy was unbelievable," Lowe said.

- NZ Herald

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