League legend Ruben Wiki relishes showing the way

By Greg Taipari

He may be 38 but Ruben Wiki, aka "the Kava King", has the body of an 18-year-old, ripped and fit.
It's been three years since Ruben retired from playing league but he can still foot it with the young ones when it comes to mentoring 74 of New Zealand's top 16- and 18-year-old rugby league players.
When I met the league legend he was stripping down to shorts and some running shoes and was about to take a group of guys on a forest run. Okay, right now women readers are keen for me to go into more detail about what this hack saw, but ladies, he's a happily married family man.
Ruben has spent the past three days training and teaching some of New Zealand's league stars of the future at an elite training camp being held in Rotorua.
As the New Zealand Rugby League high-performance manager and a high-performance assistant with the Warriors, it was a natural choice to have Ruben on hand talking to the youngsters at Tui Ridge Park near Rotorua.
"I'm here to oversee what's going on with [the squads] and give them some tips on how to succeed in the black and white jersey," he said.
"We talked about identity and who you are and what you want to do in rugby league and how far you want to go. We also talked about the brotherhood in the Kiwi jersey and how you become a part of the brotherhood forever."
The former Kiwis captain has spent 16 years in the top echelon of league. A New Zealand international representative centre-turned-prop forward, he retired with the record for most international appearances, 55, equal with Darren Lockyer.


Ruben played for more than a decade for Canberra before completing his career at the Warriors. By the end of his career he had the most NRL appearances for a Kiwi, with 315 games and 72 tries.
"I took an opportunity to play for the New Zealand Maori back in '92 in the Pacific Cup and Canberra [Raiders] were there and a two-year contract turned into 12 years. Going over to Canberra I was tuned up on the whole aspect of a rugby league player. It opened my eyes up even more, how to conduct yourself off the field and how to train, the nutrition and all of those things."
The Nga Puhi and Pacific Islander said league players today had a lot more opportunities than when he was starting out and he was determined to try to help them get that start.
"I think [league has] more opportunities for our youth coming through and I think financially money is getting thrown around for our players, especially to take off to Australia. With the raw talent that we have it works in [NRL clubs'] favour.
"For us players who have been there and done it, it's about improving the quality and opportunities for these guys who may head over there to make a career in rugby league."
The father-of-two said he took his position as a role model seriously and didn't see himself as a league legend. "It's more like being a bigger brother and overseeing [today's players]. It's a huge honour to be seen that way. But it comes down to something that I love doing and sticking to the values that were instilled into me by my mum and living it and breathing it - on and off the field."
Although Ruben is passionate about rugby league and promoting the game, he said his biggest love was his family.
"It's huge, everyone talks about what gets you through the tough times right, but being a professional, I'm going to tell you the truth. It's been my family right throughout my career who have really told me how I've played.
"You need those people and I've always told these young guys you need them and don't get caught up in the hype because sometimes you do. But your family keep your feet on the ground. It's about humility and being humble."
The former hard man, who has just extended his contract with New Zealand Rugby League as the high-performance manager, told The Daily Post a career in coaching wasn't on the horizon.
"I'm more of a practical type of person who enjoys the training aspect of the game. I love the training and giving out the punishment and hard training.
"Obviously there is more to it, I'm a qualified personal trainer. But coaching is not my forte. Have you noticed most coaches don't have any hair or grey hair? I'll keep my long locks bro."
So when I left the King of Kava he was leading a group of men on a trail run. Sure he had a bit of that hard man in his eyes but also that cool, calm confidence of a man who knew where he had been and where he was going.

- ROTORUA DAILY POST

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