As seen on https://www.stuff.co.nz
Expect a “warts and all” look at several former top rugby league players in the new season of Match Fit as they try to get themselves back in shape – both physically and mentally.
This time the show focuses on a group of ex-rugby league players who have come together to train, bond and improve their health.
Match Fit fans can expect more tears, laughter, banter and frank discussions in the show’s new season.
Former Kiwi internationals Tawera Nikau and Ruben Wiki, the two coaches for Match Fit’s new season, say the players really showed their vulnerabilities but they were enormously proud of them as well.
“One of the key things for us,” says Nikau, “was warts and all, the boys really showing themselves around their vulnerability. But also they stepped up to the challenge, they rose to the occasion and really pushed themselves.
“And a lot of them haven’t done that for 15-20 years. So the transformation and transition from where they were as elite athletes to where they were in normal life and the challenge that was set to them, man, it was just so inspirational.
“I was so privileged and proud to be part of this journey as the coach along with Ruben.”
As with the rugby seasons of Match Fit, the former top-level athletes will go through various training sessions and tests as they work towards taking part in a big match – this time against the Australian Kangaroos.
The aim is to improve overall wellbeing which includes physical as well as mental health.
Gone are coaches Sir Graham Henry and Sir Buck Shelford who have been replaced by Nikau, 56, and Wiki, 50, who are coaching former top league players including Jerry Seuseu, Clinton Toopi, Ali Lauiti’iti and Lesley Vainikolo.
“I think for us, as a league fraternity, it was reuniting our brotherhood that the Kiwis have had for a long, long time, going back to 1908,” says Wiki, who has also played for the Warriors and the Canberra Raiders.
“There is a lot of history in the Kiwi jersey and to be together with these gentlemen who are going through this transformation – also with the likes of Tawera – it was good to reconnect and see them go through this awesome journey.
“It was a family reunion all over again. It’s totally going to be different to what they (viewers) have seen in the last two (seasons of) Match Fit.”
Nikau, who played for the Melbourne Storm and Cronulla Sharks, echoes Wiki’s sentiments.
While Wiki and Nikau didn’t want to give too much away about individual players’ transformations and journeys, being involved in Match Fit clearly had a positive impact on all of them.
“For me it was really being able to go on the journey with the boys once again,” says Nikau.
“You go through these different stages within your life, in your career. In terms of that, I suppose I’m at the far end of the spectrum, but it was really enlightening. For me, I took a lot personally out of that, physically and mentally.
“Physically, I sort of got involved in the training with the boys. Because I’ve been through some challenges in my life, I share some of that in the programme…
“Being a mentor to some of the boys is about sharing some of the journey that I’ve been on. It was great, I loved it.”
Wiki also enjoyed being involved in Match Fit.
“Going on this journey Tawera and I as coaches, we walked the walk,” he says. “We backed it up by doing what the boys were doing. We wanted to be amongst as much as we could physically and mentally. So it was great to be there right beside them and going through the whole journey with them.
“Tawera has touched on the personal things he wanted to get out of it. For me, it was just to reconnect with my boys. I still miss the game.
“I still play it a little bit but not too much. Just enough for me to get my little fix. But to be involved with these gentlemen throughout the show was just what I needed for my mental space.”
One of the main themes of the previous two Match Fit seasons was mental health and the importance of opening up, sharing and being vulnerable. The topic is explored this time around too.
So how do Wiki and Nikau look after their mental health?
“Mental health is a big thing especially with men, you know?,” says Wiki.
“When you’ve been at the highest peak in your professional career and then it’s gone, what do you do?
“So I’ve known a few people that have gone through depression…
“I think most of us, when our footy season finished, it was the ‘How do we adjust to normal life as being the average Joe and not in the limelight?’.
“For me, personally, my beautiful wife was a massive advocate of keeping me busy so we went into the group fitness side of things.
“So when I retired in 2008, I transitioned into going back to school, getting my papers to become a trainer. Now I own a gym with my beautiful wife.
“We have a men’s programme in the gym that we run every fortnight. It’s my cousin and I trying to get men to open up more and not bottle things up and turn to the drink or whatever.”
Nikau, who is based in the Waikato, credits farming as helping his mental health.
“When you’re farming you’re out every day,” he says.
“You’re exercising, you’re doing a lot of physical stuff – just keeping me on that training. I’m involved with our marae quite a bit.
“As Ruben said, we’ve all been through our challenges, we’ve all had different things and you’ll get to see a lot of that in the show.”
Match Fit: League Legends, Three, from Wednesday April 12.