By AUDREY YOUNG
Former All Black captain Sir Wilson Whineray is a hot contender to be the next Governor-General.
The position becomes vacant in 2006 when Dame Silvia Cartwright's term finishes.
But the Government is looking for possible candidates now so it can make a decision next year.
And it is understood Sir Wilson, the longest-serving All Black captain, meets two criteria wanted by the Labour Government - he is male and he is not a judge.
The preference for a non-judge is not thought to be related to the latest outburst by the head of the judiciary, Dame Sian Elias, over the Prime Minister's "profound lack of understanding" of judicial independence, but because so many judges have held the post.
Since 1980 there have been five Governors-General. Three - Sir David Beattie, Sir Michael Hardie Boys and Dame Silvia - were judges.
The Government, which is vulnerable to accusations of political correctness because of the amount of social legislation it has this term, is thought to be keen to have an ordinary bloke to serve as representative of the Queen, New Zealand's head of state.
Sir Wilson, 69, could not be contacted last night, but it is thought he has been sounded out.
Reaction yesterday indicated he would be a popular choice.
National Party leader Don Brash said he had a high regard for him and would support the choice.
New Zealand First leader Winston Peters said Sir Wilson was "a significant cut above many" and would be a widely accepted choice.
"He's got the credentials; in every way he is qualified for the job."
Greens co-leader Rod Donald said he did not know Sir Wilson personally but he had clearly been "an effective team player", which was a quality the Greens would want to see in a Governor-General.
Act Party leader Rodney Hide said Sir Wilson was a "very respected" sportsman, businessman and leader and would make a fine Governor General.
"And it would be good to have "a bloke's bloke".
Sir Wilson started playing for the All Blacks in 1957. He played 77 matches, including 32 tests, and captained the side in 30 of these.
After rugby, he had a distinguished career in business, and retired last year as chairman of Carter Holt Harvey.
In September, former Prime Minister Jim Bolger was tipped as a possible Governor-General.
Former chairman Carter Holt Harvey.
All Black prop 1957-65.
Captain in 30 tests.