Newshub presenter Mike McRoberts always suspected that Samantha Hayes would end up fronting the 6pm news bulletin some day.
"I just didn't really expect that it would be with me," he admits.
Mike had spotted Sam's talent early on at TV3, as Three was then known. But he was very settled in his onscreen partnership with former presenter Hilary Barry and it came as a shock when, after more than a decade hosting the evening news together, she left the network in 2016.
"I thought Hilary and I would be going forever," tells Mike, 55. "I was disappointed, obviously."
But a new on-camera "marriage" with Sam, now 37, was soon arranged for Mike – and it breathed fresh life into him, he reveals. "When Sam came in, it was a different relationship. I'd been doing the job for 11 years and actually felt revitalised by having Sam read with me. She's great to work with.
"We're quite different in many ways – Sam is a real details person, while I'm more
about the vibe. Together it's been really good. I feel like I'm reading better than I've ever
done because she's beside me. And we've had some pretty tough shows to do."
Lately, the big-breaking stories just keep coming. The Christchurch mosque attacks, the eruption at Whakaari/White Island and, of course, the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. And in the midst of it all, Mike and Sam are celebrating a milestone five years as an on-air pair!
Since the traditional gift for a fifth anniversary is wood, Woman's Day marked the
moment with a photo shoot surrounded by tree trunks in the Titirangi bush, not far from
The bond between the two presenters is obvious. Mike takes pregnant Sam's hand to
help her walk in high heels over uneven ground and they tease each other a lot.
"Mike forgot it was our anniversary," Sam jokes.
"Sam has it in her diary, though," retorts Mike, laughing.
A news desk is an intimate space and you can't sit that close to each other night after night, doing the job they do, if you don't like each other much.
"Imagine if we weren't good friends – it would be horrible," says Sam. "People talk about
on-air chemistry and that has to be genuine, otherwise your audience sees through it in
When Sam was pregnant with her son Marlow, Mike guessed long before she broke
the news officially. And with her latest pregnancy, he was among the first people she told.
"One day, after we'd been recording in the studio, I said I really needed to talk to him
about something and dragged him off into the downstairs makeup room," Sam explains.
"When I said I was having another baby, his whole face changed. I think he'd assumed
I was going to tell him some bad news."
"I was thinking, 'Oh, my gosh, she's not leaving!' " admits Mike. "When she said she was pregnant, I actually shed a little tear because I know how great it is to have two kids."
Mike's children, Ben, 21, and Maia, 18, are both at university. Meanwhile, Sam
and fiancé Jay Blaauw are embarking on their parenthood journey with Marlow, an
energetic 20-month-old toddler, and their new baby due in the spring.
"Some of the things Sam talks about I've totally forgotten about, as you do as a parent,"
tells Mike. "The hard stuff, like constantly having to get up in the middle of the night. But
I think it's probably nice for her to look at me and see you can survive."
"It's been really cool," agrees Sam. "When I was in the thick of those weeks with a baby not sleeping, I'd come into work and talk to Mike, and he'd tell me about his kids, which gave me perspective. There are beautiful stages of life that are coming and that's nice to hear about."
The peak of the sleepless nights with Marlow came last year as the country went
into the national lockdown.
"For me, that was incredibly tough," confides Sam. "We were busier at work than ever doing live programmes and I was running on hardly any sleep at all, but I knew Mike
had my back and I could rely on him. And, actually, the studio became my happy place. It was where I got to be myself, doing the job I love, rather than being a new mum who was struggling."
Mike, with all his experience of reporting from war zones, is pretty unflappable these days. So in the first trimester of pregnancy, when Sam was suffering bouts of nausea, she knew it wouldn't worry him if she had to dive out of the studio suddenly.
"There have been a few moments on air when it's been a bit touch and go, where I've
had to take a deep breath and carry on," she says. "But that's all over now, thankfully. I'm in the bliss of the second trimester and feeling really good."
Some of the live news specials recently have been challenging to present and involved hours of live coverage, but Sam and Mike have reached the point where they can communicate without needing to speak. Tiny body language signals – even the lift of a finger – are enough to say what they need to.
Their friendship carries over to their personal lives, with Mike and his partner Heidi
Ettema heading out on the occasional double dinner date with Sam and Jay.
"They've been round to my place and we watched Marlow tearing round the lounge,"
chuckles Mike. "And I had some family up for Christmas, so the McRobertses all trucked over to Sam's for New Year's.
"We talk a lot. I guess we have a common experience of what it's like to be the face of a
network and all the issues that can come with that, so it's good to have someone who knows. The few times we've been out walking down the street together, people tend to
walk into lampposts."
Sam will be heading off on maternity leave before too long and has plans to return to Newshub in the New Year.
In the meantime, she is as keen as ever to get out and about around the country reporting
"I keep reminding the producers that I've still got my go-bag packed for emergencies,
although I'm probably going to have to check that the pants still fit," she laughs.
Sam's not quite sure yet how she and Jay will manage once there are two children to wrangle. "Marlow is the cutest little button, but he's an absolute handful and he needs
a lot of my attention," she says.
"When I go back to work, Jay will be super-dad at home in the evening, trying to get them both to sleep. We'll figure it out, hopefully."
Mike can relate. He was once on assignment in Jerusalem, covering the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict, while also trying to hunt down an Auckland taxi with a car seat that could transport his then-small daughter Maia home from day care.
"I had a war to cover and you know what was more stressful? Finding the car seat," Mike
laughs. "But you find a way."
We had only just recovered from seeing Mike's moves on Dancing With The Stars when the newsreader was unmasked as Orange Roughy on The Masked Singer NZ.
"Why not?" he laughs when we ask why he signed up for the show.
"Who wouldn't jump at the opportunity to go on a nationally televised singing competition dressed as a giant fish?! I love a challenge almost as much as I love a good singalong, so this was a great way to combine both. And much like competing on Dancing, I saw The Masked Singer as a nice way to break out of the normally conservative news format and show audiences a different side of me."