General Ruben Wiki - In A League Of His Own



By Michele Hewitson

The way the league girls - aged 40-plus and should know better - went on about Ruben Wiki anyone would think he's some sort of super-hunk. "Can I come to the interview, ooh, ooh can I, please?" they carried on. "He's gorgeous," they gushed.

I knew he was a great league player, a much lauded Kiwi captain. I have, obviously, seen him on the telly and I looked at the photos in his book, Ruben Wiki, and, oh all right, I may have thought, in passing, that he had quite impressive thighs. But I never really thought that he was all that good-looking.

Which was just as well really because the first thing he does - before I've had a chance to have a good gawk - is lean and put his head on my shoulder. Not many men could carry this off with a woman journalist they've just met. It takes, paradoxically, a sort of self-effacing confidence. Or extreme fatigue. And he's tired out, the poor thing, at the end of a week spent in shopping malls signing his book. When I text one of the league girls later and tell her, she texts back: "You've been Rubened! I would have fainted."

They're mad those league girls but I have to concede they're right in the respect that he is lovely to behold. I even managed to get a male editor - who said "could you wipe the drool off that photograph" - to admit this.

This will fill Wiki with horror. When I ask him whether he's had girly fans turning up to his book signings he looks embarrassed and says, "Girls? Ha. I've got the 30-year-olds, the 40-year-olds. The ladies."

The ladies might want to take note that he adores his wife, Santa, talks about her all the time, and that when they met she was an MP in the Army.

He really is exhausted. He just wants a comfy chair, he says, and a glass of red wine. He was up until 1am at the league awards and then up again at 7am to spend the day sitting in book shops signing and smiling.

He could be forgiven for showing that spending an hour doing an interview now is the last thing he wants to do. He doesn't show it at all, despite a week which has been gruelling if simply for the strangeness of meeting strangers all day. They all want, well, what exactly do they want from him?

Just to see him, which, having met him doesn't seem so odd. But it is strange, he says. "Yeah, well, I'm not used to this but it's good. I get to meet new people and it's nice. The Mad Butcher gave me a bit of advice: 'The best gift you can give anyone is your time'. I'm just like anyone else you know. I'm meeting people; they're meeting me."

He is not quite like anyone else, as anyone who has read the accolades which followed the announcement of his retirement from his test career would know. There is absolutely no point in asking him about such things. He looks even more mortified than he did with the girly fan question - which, in my defence, I had no choice but to ask after witnessing how the ones in my office go on.

He manages an "umm", when I read out some of the nice things written about his captaincy - "one of league's foremost captains," and "irreplaceable" - and he stops making eye contact. He looks quite miserable and this is because he doesn't really think of himself as the captain: he'd rather be thought of as just one of the guys. "I treat people as my equals, as no one above me or below me. I try to just be myself." Which is probably what has made him such a great captain. "Oh, umm, I don't know. I don't like to talk about myself."

Which is a bit tricky, considering that he has a book to sell and it happens to be a book about him. So, tough, I say. He laughs and says, "Well, that's just about my upbringing". This might sound like splitting hairs because surely his upbringing is about him. But his book is as much about two other people as it is about Wiki: his mum, Tessa; and his wife, Santa.

Wiki would say that these two women, both formidable characters, are the heroines of his story. He writes: "Some men need a woman to keep them on task. I'll put my hand up and admit I'm one of them ... Obviously mum has been, and still is, a big influence on me, but for much of the second half of my life Santa has been the one. She's the rock behind me."

The boy from Otara, as he calls himself throughout the book and the interview - remembering where you come from, he says, is important and "I'm proud if it" - grew up without his father. His father left the family when Wiki was four. He says in his book that he won't say much more than that about the tough times in his early life. He regards his parents' lives as theirs to keep private but says now that his father "is back in the picture. I've got kids and I want them to grow up knowing their grandfather. And my kids love seeing him. He's a very gentle man." He says he didn't so much have to forgive his father as "rekindle the relationship. I don't know what happened back in the day. If people fall out of love, they fall out of love."

He had to try "to be an adult pretty young". His mum worked two jobs while he looked after his younger brother and sister. He never resented this, he says, because "well, you know, I knew how hard mum was working for me. I knew what she went through. And, you know, she had a bit of the Once Were Warriors in her time [not from his father] and I had to take the kids to another room and just protect them."

Growing up without his father, he thinks, has meant that "you want to be a good father to your own kids; a good role model. I know I'll be be there for my kids no matter what. I'm just trying to reverse the roles, I suppose. Come on, fathers!"

His mother was determined that her kids would have a better life and that included them not having their own children as young as she had hers. She used to frighten girls away from her handsome son. She sounds, I say, pretty scary; pretty tough. When he was a little boy, his mum would take him down to the fields in Otara and "just told me to run, so I ran. And I scored a try so she just told me to keep doing that. And when I got tackled, I cried and she just told me to get up".

She does sound tough. "Oh, not tough. Mum's soft as."

Like mother, like son then. Because the thing about Wiki is that, as the back cover of the book points out, "tough and hard don't begin to describe him", and he's a big pussy cat off the footy field. "Oh, I'm not tough," says Wiki, "I just play footy. I play footy on the footy field and I don't bring it home. You just go back to being a dad."

A dad whose book catalogues bashes and bruises, a broken arm, a broken jaw. He has a strange relationship with pain: "I love it." This sounds bonkers. "No, I do." A trainer during his time in Canberra once told him "pain is weakness leaving the body", and he believes it. Also, despite neither his mum nor him being tough, he does concede there may be some mental toughness in both of them. If he gets a hard tackle, he thinks "of what mum's gone through. I think, 'if she can go through that, I can harden up'. You just get on with it. There's no time to stay on the ground and be injured".

He is a mellow sort of chap. This is possibly partly the result of all that kava he drinks. He's got the league boys into sessions over the kava for "the communal bond". He reckons he has researched kava health-giving properties, but he just likes it really, I say. "No, for myself it's something I really believe in." When I point out that it tastes disgusting, he laughs and says, "It's quite an acquired taste. It's just like pain, you block it out". He drinks red wine or kava. He doesn't like beer. On beer, "you dehydrate and don't talk sense".

He is very sensible - although it would be fun to see him on the kava; I'd guess he's a giggler. His sports star status from a young age has never gone to his head. "That's where family comes in. Oh yeah, they tell you straight up."

His wife calls, "that's her ringtone!", and she and the kids, Denzel, who is 7, and Mackenzie, 5, have arrived to stay at the Hilton with Wiki for the night. You might have thought that the adults would have liked a flash night to themselves. This is a silly thought. "I don't get to see them much, you know."

He's looking forward to a holiday with the family. They're "going to see my mum". Of course they are.

By now he's so exhausted he looks as though he's about to keel over, but he's polite enough to indulge me by going through the photographs in the book. "See, these bikes?" This is a picture of him and siblings on their new bikes on Christmas Day. "They got stolen the day after."

There he is, a cherub-faced young thing. "Jeez, I've changed." Oh, he has not.

I ask him if he'd mind signing one more book, for one of the league girls. "I think she's a bit in love with you." "Oh, is she? God love her."

The sentiment is mutual, and I can see why now. Because, really, who wouldn't love him?


Great article. Made work less boring today, that's for sure! :p

Nice to see an opinion article making the black and white pages.


Wow..that was an awesome article!!

I hardly ever read long articles like that..but that was just great.

Ooh I can't wait to get his book soon!!

kiwi man_old

it will be a sad day when rubes retires from all forms of the game, he is a man people aspire to be like, both as a player and as a person

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