Former back rower Wairangi Koopu has returned to the One New Zealand Warriors in a newly-created role as the club’s cultural ambassador.
The 42-year-old’s appointment reinforces the club’s commitment to build a distinctive identity through the cultures it represents, principally the Māori and Pasifika communities.
“We have spent a lot of time on creating an identity across the whole club that gives us the strongest connection with our community,” said One New Zealand Warriors CEO Cameron George.
“With Wairangi coming on board in this part-time position we have the ideal person who combines huge experience with and knowledge of the club from his playing career as well as his deep understanding of his Māori heritage.
“He will provide both the playing group and the wider club with support in a range of ways, not least in helping to deliver our programmes and to represent us at cultural events.”
In 2005 Koopu became the eighth player to represent the One New Zealand Warriors in 100 first-grade games, going on to make a total of 159 appearances from 1999-2008 including the club’s first grand final in 2002.
Raised in Te Kaha on the East Coast, Koopu (Te Whānau-ā-Apanui, Ngāti Awa) was educated at the total immersion school Te Wharekura O Rakaumangamanga in Huntly. Fluent in te reo (the Māori language) he has gone on to establish himself as a television presenter, initially with Māori Television and latterly on The Crowd Goes Wild on Sky Sport.
“I have a great love for the Warriors and owe the club so much,” said Koopu.
“They gave me the chance to realise my rugby league dreams of playing in the NRL and also representing New Zealand.
“I have a real passion for my Māori heritage, too. It’s who I am and being able to come back into the club now to help in this area is a fantastic opportunity.”
Koopu is the fourth club legend to join the club in a special ambassadorial role.
His former teammates Monty Betham, Kevin Campion and Awen Guttenbeil were appointed as ambassadors last year.