Former All Black Neville Wyatt Black, who was one of the first players to switch codes to play professional league, has died.

Family and friends are mourning the death of the larger-than-life character who died peacefully surrounded by family at The Gardens Rest Home and Hospital on Hodgkins St yesterday morning.

He was 90 years old.

Son Graham said his father was a real old-school Kiwi bloke who loved to tell a tall tale and enjoyed his rugby, racing and beer.


"He even won a cup for the tallest tale while living in England with a story about Ngongotaha mountain."

Mr Black also served in the Royal New Zealand Navy during World War II and was stationed for two years in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka).

In 1948, while playing for Ponsonby and Auckland as halfback, he was selected for the All Blacks and went on the team's 1949 tour of South Africa.

He then returned to England and played professionally for Wigan and Keighley rugby league clubs.

Daughter-in-law Mala Black said he was a social person, known by most people in Ngongotaha due to him owning the old CJ Black's petrol station in the village.

"He was a very happy and pleasant man. He was always full of compliments and was always fun to be around," she said.

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Born in Kawakawa in Northland, his family moved to Rotorua where he was educated at Ngongotaha Primary School and Rotorua High School (now Rotorua Boys' High) and played all of his junior rugby in the district before moving back to Auckland after the war.

Close friend and former Rotorua District councillor Bob Martin said Mr Black was part of the family and had known him all of his life.

"He was always true to his word and loved a good beer and a good joke. He also told poetry and enjoyed singing.

"I remember him coming to rugby training in Ngongotaha in the mid-'70s. He pulled a hammy showing the guys a few skills, telling us rugby was far too rough and he would not be making a comeback."

Mr Martin said his old friend was always fun to be around.

Mr Black is survived by his two sons John and Graham, four grandchildren and six great grandchildren.

His funeral service will be at the Rotorua Crematorium Chapel on Sala St from 11am tomorrow.