Born: 7 June 1956 – Apia, Western Samoa
Test record: 28 Tests (1975, 1977-85) – 5 tries (17 points)
Tours: 1975 World Championship Series, 1977 World Cup, 1978 tour of Australia and Papua New Guinea, 1980 tour of Great Britain and France, 1982 tour of Australia and Papua New Guinea, 1985 tour of Great Britain and France
A versatile and classy backline performer, Western Samoa-born Fred Ah Kuoi’s tenure in the New Zealand team spanned more than a decade and his 28 Test appearances encompassed the Kiwis’ halcyon era under Graham Lowe during the 1980s.
Ah Kuoi’s three-season stay with North Sydney Bears failed to reap the expected rewards, but he later became a club legend in England with Hull FC.
Barely 19 when he was chosen in the Kiwis’ squad for the second half of the 1975 World Championship Series, the Richmond Rovers tyro debuted on the wing against Australia at Carlaw Park and switched to centre for the loss to Wales in Swansea. He impressed in tour match wins over Barrow and Keighley. Earlier in the year Ah Kuoi represented New Zealand Māori in the Pacific Cup and against Wales.
Ah Kuoi featured in New Zealand XIII’s win over Sydney Metropolitan in 1976 before earning selection in the Kiwis’ 1977 World Cup, lining up in the centres for the loss to Great Britain and win over France.
With Olsen Filipaina and Dennis Williams in the centres, Ah Kuoi played two Tests on the wing against Australia in 1978 among 10 appearances on tour.
The 23-year-old’s career changed tack in 1979 when he assumed the five-eighth role in the Kiwis line-up. He scored a maiden Test try in the series-opener against the touring Lions, held down the No.6 jumper for the remaining matches and skippered his country to a face-saving victory in the third encounter. He was later named New Zealand Player of the Year. Ironically, Ah Kuoi had been reluctant to make himself available for the Kiwis prior to the series due to his frustration at playing on the wing.
After a shoulder injury ruled him out of the home series against Australia, Ah Kuoi scored another try in the first Test against Great Britain at Wigan on the Kiwis’ 1980 tour, for which he was named vice-captain to Mark Graham. He played all five Tests on the trip.
Heading to Sydney in 1981, Ah Kuoi played just 27 first-grade games for Norths (where he was eventually joined by Graham) but nevertheless remained a permanent fixture in the New Zealand team, playing in the 1981 series against France and 1982 rubber against Australia.
Ah Kuoi played five-eighth in the first-Test loss to Australia in 1983 but reverted to centre for the second – a stunning 19-12 victory at Lang Park that snapped a 12-year drought against the green-and-golds.
With the mercurial Filipaina at five-eighth, Ah Kuoi remained in the centres for all three matches against the touring Lions in 1984 and captained the Kiwis to an unforgettable 3-0 cleansweep. He scored tries in the first two matches.
Hand surgery prevented Ah Kuoi from playing in the pivotal 1985 series against Australia but he received a Kiwis farewell courtesy of playing all five Tests – at centre, five-eighth and off the bench – on the tour of Britain and France at the end of the year.
Ah Kuoi joined Hull FC in the 1983-84 English winter and his versatility and consistency were valuable commodities during a four-season stay. He played well over 100 games for the Airlie Birds and featured in the iconic 1985 Challenge Cup final loss to Wigan.
The Kiwis great returned to play a farewell season at Richmond in 1987 and later had two stints as coach of the club.