Warriors veteran part of New Zealand side that twice beat Australia for world titles

Ruben Wiki will be the latest middle-aged hero at the Auckland NRL Nines this weekend.

Following in the footsteps of Brad Fittler, Steve Menzies, Braith Anasta and Jason Croker, Wiki will compete in the tournament as a returning legend.

Not only that, but the 46-test Kiwi will lead the Warriors team out on to Eden Park, almost a decade after he played his last NRL match.

It's an unlikely scenario but the presence of the former Warriors cult hero represents much more than a gimmick.

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The 44-year-old has remained in terrific shape since his retirement in 2008, and should be able to handle the physical demands.

However, it won't be easy. While Nines is seen as a festival weekend, there are still tackles to be made, hit-ups to be hammered and plenty of unrelenting contact.

But Wiki has Nines experience: as one of the key players in a remarkable New Zealand success in the late 1990s.

It tends to be forgotten that New Zealand won consecutive Super League World Nines titles in 1996 and 1997. They upset star-studded Australian selections on both occasions, thwarting the likes of Allan Langer, Ricky Stuart, Laurie Daley and Gorden Tallis at the peak of their powers.

"It was huge," remembers Wiki. "The calibre of players in their team was something else, but we had a good, well-balanced side too."

Aside from Wiki, Graham Norton's team in 1996 included Stephen Kearney, Quentin Pongia, Tony Iro, Stacey Jones, Henry Paul and Marc Elis.

"It was all about second phase - offloads from our big boys and letting the speedsters do the work," said Wiki.

"It had rained continuously so we were in mud up to our ankles and there were frogs on the field."

The next year was even more of a challenge, on a rock-hard track in Townsville.

"That was tough - they had Langer, [Steve] Renouf, [Andrew] Ettingshausen and the Walters brothers (Kevin and Steve)," said Wiki. "But we did the job again."

New Zealand edged Australia in the semifinal, before beating Samoa (featuring Logan Swann, Nigel Vagana and Jerry Seuseu) in the final.

"Some of the principles remain the same," said Wiki. "We controlled the ball well and defence was massive. It still applies in this era. We watched some footage of when we played to show the boys and some things haven't changed - if you don't hold on to the ball you don't have much of a chance."

Wiki is "excited but nervous" ahead of tomorrow. He's had one month to prepare, after coach Kearney posed the surprise question last month.

"He asked me if I was keen to play," said Wiki. "I thought he was joking but the last three years I've been hinting to the coaches to see if I can get out there."

Wiki emerged sore but unscathed from his first contact session last week; "Hoffy, Simon [Mannering] and Albert [Vete] were running straight at me and there is only one thing you can do - put them on their butt."

He is unsure how much game time he will have but he should play more of a role than the likes of Anasta and Menzies in the past.

"We are going there to do something special and if we get the rub of the green anything can happen," said Wiki. "And I'm going to enjoy the experience. My wife and kids will be there - they haven't seen dad play for a while."