Sir Graham Lowe left school a long time before he actually got to leave.

As the former Kiwi league coach portrays it, his mind had quit Otahuhu College some years prior to his body heading out of the gates for a final time.

Nearly 50 years later, "Lowie" has been knighted for services to youth and education, thanks to his Kick to the Seagulls programme which is particularly strong in the country's prisons.

"I really disconnected with what the teachers were saying a few years before I left at 15," said Sir Graham, aged 72.

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"I always felt I couldn't understand what I was being told and the people telling me didn't know which buttons to push."

Officially speaking, there has still yet to be a league knight.

Sir Peter Leitch, whose patronage of the sport is well known, was knighted in 2010 for services to philanthropy and business.

But Sir Graham could be seen as the first major league figure to be honoured in this way, and he credits the game for giving him the profile to launch his education programme.

A giant of New Zealand sport, becoming the Queensland coach may have been his most remarkable achievement. Kiwi mentors simply don't rate highly in the world of Australian league - there have been very few at even NRL level.

But the chances of a Kiwi coaching State of Origin are probably better than those Lowe once had of reaching his 70s.

"Karen (his wife) and I were told on five occasions during the 90s that I wasn't going to survive," he says.

"Strokes, brain haemorrhage, heart attacks, thrombosis of the lungs…I had to prepare myself and my family.

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"Somehow I managed to get through it. When I think back, I just refused to compromise the principles I have to fit in with mediocrity. I think that helped keep it all going."

He lost a lot of his memory at one point, and countered that by sticking hundreds of notes on walls relaying life messages to get him out of a downward spiral.

When he pared them back, he was left with the 12 major items which form his education programme today.

Kick to the Seagulls is a phrase coined by the legendary Aussie league coach Jack Gibson, who could have been honoured for his services to clever sayings.

It refers to the idea of players kicking to the wide open spaces, easily identified by discovering where seagulls have no fear to tread.

Another of Sir Graham's principles is called 'Dog See The Rabbit' from the world of greyhound racing, which encourages focus on a target while ignoring the inevitable mind clutter which comes along the way.

"Language and the culture of sport transcends everything else," says Lowe, aged 72, who lives near Silverdale.

"I looked at young people who were disadvantaged for whatever reason, and I really believe in the need for at least basic numeracy and literacy.

"A lot of them…if you put a programme up in front of them they are not excited, but I've tried to use the language of sport."

The 17-week programmes are delivered by polytechnics around the country. Sir Graham gets to the opening and closing ceremonies and attends as much as he can. It means he is busier than he has ever been.

He also spends a lot of time following his 15 year-old twin sons Jack and Sam, who are into ballroom dancing and basketball/volleyball respectively.

"Lowie" has no official league posts but keeps in contact with his old ally Wayne Bennett, the master coach still working his magic with South Sydney. And he went to the recent Warriors-Broncos NRL match at Mt Smart Stadium.

"It's hard because I look at the games and think I wouldn't do it that way – and I never want to get involved in old people's talk," says Sir Graham, a Knight Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit.

"Once I finished coaching I looked at other things and saw a great opportunity because I lacked a decent education myself.

"Authority often doesn't allow for imagination. All I'm trying to encourage is common sense and using your imagination.

"I'm thrilled and proud (to be knighted) and I've accepted it on behalf of a lot of coaches who influenced me, since I was five years old."

Also honoured...
Yvette Corlett
Dame Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit
For services to athletics
Approval of the award took place in April, prior to Corlett's death at the age of 89.
In 1952 she became the first Kiwi woman to win an Olympic gold, in the long jump, which was the highlight of a great career. Her roles included Patron of Athletics New Zealand and serving on the New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame board of governors.

Scott Dixon
Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit
For services to motorsport
An IndyCar star who has won the American series five times, the last being in 2018. Dixon is involved in charity fundraising and mentoring young New Zealand drivers.

Yvonne Willering
Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit
For services to netball
Renowned coach and commentator.

Sarah Hirini
Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit
For services to rugby
Led the Black Ferns sevens to World Cup and Commonwealth Games gold, and Olympic silver.

Naomi Shaw
Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit
For services to softball
Captained New Zealand to its only women's world title in 1982, national coach 2010 – 2014.

Bryan Waddle
Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit
For services as a broadcaster
Pre-eminent cricket commentator, including for more than 250 tests