By Tony Kemp
An icon on the field, a leading coach and exemplary administrator off the field, and an all-round legend of the game, we celebrate, Matua Kevin Tamati.
Kevin Tamati is approaching five decades of service at the highest level in Rugby League in Aotearoa, making him well-deserving of the most prestigious of awards – A New Zealand Rugby League Life Membership.
Kevin Tamati was born and raised in the Hawke’s Bay. He burst to national prominence when he (along with our President, life member and cousin, Howie Tamati) were selected to represent the Junior Kiwis in 1972, and would go on to earn his full international honors debuting for the Kiwis in 1979 – the first of 22 tests he accumulated through an international career that lasted until 1986.
As a player Kevin spent time with Wellington clubs the Petone Panthers, Upper Hutt Tigers, Randwick Kingfishers as well as the Northcote Tigers in Auckland before embarking on an international career with Widnes and Warrington in the UK, where he played in excess of 200 top-flight games.
Kevin has made a significant contribution to our domestic game, playing for Auckland, Wellington, and representing Central Districts. There was a stint where Kevin would play for Northcote in the Auckland comp on a Saturday and then fly down to Wellington on Wednesday nights to play for the Kingfishers. Kevin was known as a tough and uncompromising player throughout his career and was a role model and hero to many players, (including myself and many past Kiwis) during this period as a player.
Once his playing days were over, Kevin remained in the UK and began his coaching career at the helm of teams including, Chorley, Whitehaven, Widnes and Warrington. He also coached the British Army in the mid-1990s.
However, Kevin Tamati was always coming home. Upon his return to New Zealand, Kevin began a career as an administrator in the Hawkes Bay. He took up roles as the Chairman of Hawkes Bay (a position he still holds today) alongside refereeing at all age group levels as well as coaching Hawke’s Bay teams at age group and senior levels.
Even today, Kevin still works in a voluntary capacity and currently serves as Vice Chairman – Mid- Central Zone and is the current Assistant Coach of NZ Māori Women’s team which were the curtain raiser to the NZ Maori – Indigenous All Stars game earlier this year.
In 2006 Kevin was appointed to the NZ Māori Rugby League Board and helped lead the 2008 delegation to the International RL Federation – successfully establishing the inaugural indigenous international match between NZ Māori Rugby League and the Australian Indigenous Rugby League. This pioneer match provided the ground-breaking work to establish the hugely popular annual NRL Indigenous vs Australian All Stars game, promoting indigenous rugby league. Kevin has also coached the NZ Māori Rugby League side in 2007-08.
Kevin Tamati was made a life member of the Wellington Rugby League and named in the Wellington Rugby League Team of the Century in 2012. He was named a life member of Hawkes Bay Rugby League in 2016. Kevin Tamati was also named an Auckland Rugby League Immortal Hall of Famer and was inducted into the NZRL Legends of League for his service to the game.
Few people have had a greater impact on the sport of rugby league, from grassroots to the elite levels from playing, coaching or administrating than Kevin Tamati in the past half-century.
As you have heard, Kevin Tamati has Rugby League running through his veins. Kevin’s legacy of leadership will continue to pave the way for our future leaders of the game, for generations to come.
Congratulations Kevin Tamati on your New Zealand Rugby League Life Membership, thank you for your years of invaluable service and dedication to our great game.