The big hits keep coming for rugby league legend Ruben Wiki.
Just days after making a stunning comeback at the age of 44 at the Downer NRL Auckland Nines, Wiki was inducted into the New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame at the Halberg Awards dinner on Thursday night.
He is just the ninth rugby league inductee and the second Vodafone Warriors great to achieve the honour. The other rugby league players recognised have been Albert Baskerville, Tom Baxter, former Vodafone Warriors coach Mark Graham, record-holding Vodafone Warriors icon Stacey Jones, Ces Mountford, Charlie Seeling, George Smith and Des White.
Joined by his wife Santa, son Denzel and daughter MacKenzie, the fiercely proud Wiki was one of two inductees named, the other being the late Don Jowett, an outstanding sprinter in the 1950s. He won gold (220 yards) and silver (440 yards) at the 1954 British Empire and Commonwealth Games in Vancouver and bronze in the 220 yards at the 1950 British Empire Games in Auckland.
Multi-talented and immensely popular Wiki proved himself to be among the finest of all rugby league players during 16 first-grade seasons which included an illustrious club career on both sides of the Tasman, establishing a Test-appearances world record while playing for the Kiwis in the backs and the forwards, and captaining his country to one of its most significant international triumphs. Since his retirement in 2008 he has continued to serve the sport at club and national levels.
Of Samoan and Maori descent, Wiki was born on January 21, 1973. In 1992 he starred for the Junior Kiwis, playing alongside future All Black captain Tana Umaga in the centres, and went on to represent Auckland and New Zealand Maori before being signed by the Canberra Raiders in 1993. He teamed up with his boyhood hero Mal Meninga when Canberra won the 1994 grand final. Wiki also made his Test debut against Papua New Guinea in 1994 and was to wear the Kiwis jersey every year from then until 2006.
The first half of his international career was almost exclusively played as a 95kg centre, where he made 21 of his first 24 Test appearances (the other three were as a replacement loose forward). At the 2000 World Cup in Britain he started in the forwards for the first time, staying there for his remaining 31 Tests. He progressively moved from loose forward and then into the second-row before specialising as a 106kg prop from 2004. Few rugby league players anywhere in the world have had the combined physical and mental assets to successfully handle all of those very different roles.
In 2005 Wiki captained the Kiwis and was named man of the match in their stunning 24-0 victory over Australia in the Tri Nations final at Elland Road in Leeds. It was New Zealand’s maiden victory in a major tournament and was the forerunner to subsequent World Cup (2008) and Four Nations (2010 and 2014) triumphs. That momentous occasion was also Wiki’s 50thTest match – he was the first to achieve that milestone for any nation – and when he retired after the 2006 season his world record stood at 55. Wiki had captained his country in the last 18 of them, proving to be an inspiration on and off the field. After retiring from international football he twice played for the All Golds, against the Northern Union in Warrington in 2007 and against New Zealand Maori in New Plymouth in 2008. He also represented a Samoa Residents side in 2009 and, just after his 44th birthday, captained the Vodafone Warriors at the 2017 NRL Nines at Eden Park (the first time he had ever played at the venue).
At NRL level, Wiki made 225 appearances for the Canberra Raiders from 1993 to 2004 – and was twice that proud club’s player of the year – and 87 for the Vodafone Warriors from 2005 to 2008 (named player of the Year in 2005). On June 29, 2008, he became only the 10th player of all time, and the first (and still only) New Zealander, to reach 300 first-grade matches in a competition which extends back to 1908. When he retired at the end of that season his total was 312.
Since his retirement from playing, Wiki has served as the New Zealand Rugby League’s high performance manager, been on the support staff of the Kiwis, and held the role of strength and conditioning coach for the Vodafone Warriors. He has mentored numerous young players seeking to follow in his footsteps and occasionally pulled the boots back on to play in charity games. Wiki has been recognised in many Canberra, Vodafone Warriors and New Zealand ‘best ever’ team selections since his retirement, including the New Zealand Rugby League’s team of the century.
In 2007, while still playing in his penultimate season for the Vodafone Warriors, Wiki was made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit (ONZM) for his services to rugby league. Later that year he won the Ken Stephen Medal, awarded annually to the NRL player who makes the most outstanding contribution to the community.