Vodafone Warriors legend Ruben Wiki will make a comeback more than eight years after retiring at the Downer NRL Auckland Nines at Eden Park on February 4 and 5.
Vodafone Warriors head coach Stephen Kearney is yet to name his 18-man squad for the fourth NRL Nines tournament but today confirmed his former Kiwi team-mate will fill one of the spots.
Wiki, who turns 44 this Saturday, will swap his regular role as the club’s NRL strength and conditioning coach to join players he trains, many of whom weren’t even born when he began his first-grade playing career in 1993.
“It was a huge buzz when Mooks (Kearney) asked me,” said Wiki.
“I might have dropped the hint in the past that I’d like to have a go, especially when guys like Brad Fittler and Steve Menzies were picked, but I didn’t think it would happen.
“I’ve got some work to do getting ready for contact again but I’m looking forward to it. While I’m a bit nervous about it, the thought of pulling on a Vodafone Warriors jersey again is cool. I’m so honoured and excited.
“I’ve never played on Eden Park either so now I have the chance to run out there in front of my family and thousands of fans. That’s unreal.”
Kearney, who played most of his 45 Tests for the Kiwis with Wiki, has no doubts the long-time hard man will be up for the challenge.
“Rubes didn’t need much convincing. Put it this way, we certainly didn’t have to ask him twice,” he said.
“We told all the players this morning and they couldn’t have been more excited.
“While Ruben finished playing quite a few years ago, he has always prided himself in staying in fantastic condition and he’s absolutely jumping out of his skin for this.
“This is a huge thrill for his family and for all of us at the club as well as our members and fans. I can’t wait to see him back out on the field playing in front of a big crowd at Eden Park and I’m sure everyone else will feel the same.”
Wiki follows Fittler, Menzies, Braith Anasta and his former Canberra Raiders team-mates Ken Nagas and Jason Croker who have all previously made comebacks at the NRL Nines. Like them, Wiki needs to fulfil some requirements to be re-registered by the NRL.
The ex-Kiwi captain (225 games for Canberra, 87 for the Vodafone Warriors) is also familiar with the nines concept, being a member of the New Zealand team which won the Super League World Nines in 1996 and 1997. Kearney was also in those sides.
As Vodafone Warrior #123, Wiki played the last of his 312 first-grade games in the club’s preliminary final loss to Manly at the Sydney Football Stadium on September 27, 2008.
After playing most of his record 55 Tests with Kearney, he had experience in a Kearney-coached side when he turned out for the All Golds against New Zealand Maori in their Rugby League World Cup warm-up match in New Plymouth in October 2008.
A year later he made a one-off return for Samoa against a Bartercard Cup Selection at Mount Smart Stadium.