Characters in NZ rugby seem to be on the verge of extinction wouldn't you say?
We need more flavour, we need more banter. What NZ rugby needs is more Joe Wheelers.
Now I'm writing this whilst grinning from ear to ear, as I reminisce about the stories that Joey has made or contributed to. Without a doubt, he is a massive reason as to why the Highlanders are now considered a top draw team in Super Rugby.
Culture is a word in sports that gets thrown around more often than the ball itself. However, Joey Wheeler is one of the key contributors to creating the best environment for his teammates to thrive. He's got a special ability to switch on when needed, but also knack for knowing when to take away the seriousness of the situation that so often surrounds these players and teams.
The Country listeners are familiar with Joey doing his Farmlands Footy segment every week during Super Rugby for the past four years. This means they'll also be familiar with the copious amounts of stick he gives me, but to be honest, that's what our relationship is built on and I wouldn't have it any other way.
When I was lucky enough to hop on the bus of the Highlanders playoff ride for three weeks in 2015, that's when I first met Joey, and that's when I first understood the importance of guys like him in a team.
I was a young 19-year-old kid and had just delivered a speech that the Highlanders shared on their Facebook page. Joey went out of his way to private message me, (as well as Lima I should add), to say how much he rated it.
That meant a lot.
Fast forward a week, and he invited me into the sheds in Sydney after we'd just won the semifinal, to deliver another speech. Think about that, the Highlanders were going to their first final since 1999 and Joey allowed a 19-year-old kid to speak for three minutes while everyone put their celebrations on hold.
He did the same a week later after the final.
You see, Joey is well aware of the fishbowl that rugby players in New Zealand live in, so he understands how important it is to have fun where possible. He is a huge campaigner of doing things differently and not being cliché by doing the same old stuff.
I, along with many others find it extremely refreshing. So why don't other players take notes? Why don't broadcasters take notes? If you want people to engage in the sport then apart from the 80 minutes on the field, the rest of the product must also be enjoyable.
For those who don't know Joey - he's easy enough to describe.
He's the type of Kiwi who would happily switch off his tv and phone, put a box a beer at his feet, get his mates around and just yarn until the sun goes down then comes back up. He's a bloke that myself, The Highlanders and NZ Rugby owe a hell of a lot to. A team player in all facets of life, respected by his peers and by everyone in general.
I know people are quick to say that rugby players are clichéd and robotic. However, Joey Wheeler bucks that trend and more players need to do just that. Look across the pond, why are their sports TV shows so popular? Easy, because they have a lot of players on there that are characters, players that aren't afraid to say what they think. Simply, players they aren't afraid to have fun while the cameras are on.
So go on Joey, keep enjoying the land of the rising sun and the fruits that come with it. It's thoroughly deserved. You'll be back, you have to be. Let's hope that when that day comes you'll have a few more players singing from the same song sheet.
Lord knows NZ Rugby needs it.
Lord knows NZ Rugby fans want it.
Keep it deep.
And keeeeeep it on
(Congratulations also to Joey and Courtney on the impending arrival of a Mini Wheels).