Born: 27 January, 1974 – Auckland
Test record: 23 Tests (1993-99) – 11 tries, 6 goals (56 points)
Tours: 1993 tour of Great Britain and France, 1994 tour of Papua New Guinea, 1995 World Cup, 1999 Tri Nations
A brilliant but oft-maligned playmaker, Gene Ngamu played 23 of a possible 33 Tests for New Zealand after winning a maiden call-up in 1993 until his last appearance in the black-and-white jersey in 1999.
The Marist Saints and Northcote Tigers junior was also a mainstay in the fledgling Auckland Warriors line-up after earlier stints at Manly and South Sydney, forming a compelling halves combination with Stacey Jones at club and international level.
The quicksilver five-eighth’s prodigious talent was originally recognised by Manly coach and Kiwi compatriot Graham Lowe in 1992. The Junior Kiwis rep played nine matches in two seasons for the Sea Eagles, before touring with the New Zealand side to Great Britain and France at the end of ’93 at the tender age of 19.
Ngamu played seven matches on tour but was dropped from the Test team after the 17-0 defeat to Great Britain in the series opener at Wembley. He was controversially sacked by the Sea Eagles as he battled injury upon his return, promptly signing on as a foundation Warrior and spending the interim 1994 campaign with Souths.
Shoulder problems restricted Ngamu to just one top-grade match for the Rabbitohs, but he toured Papua New Guinea at the end of the year and scored three tries in the two-Test series.
Ngamu got the nod as the Warriors’ No.6 for their premiership debut and was the fledgling club’s first-choice goalkicker, slotting three goals in the iconic 25-22 loss to Brisbane in the opening round of 1995. The 21-year-old subsequently scored two tries in the first Test win over France and played five-eighth in all three mid-season Tests against Australia. The emergence of Jones and the presence of ex-Penrith champion Greg Alexander saw Ngamu finish the premiership season at fullback but he was the Warriors’ top pointscorer with 84 and was chosen in the Kiwis’ World Cup squad, playing the opener at five-eighth and the other two fixtures off the bench.
A game-breaker with genuine speed, some of the best footwork in the code and great attacking instincts, Ngamu eventually settled as Jones’ halves partner in 1996 and set a club record of 28 points (three tries, eight goals) in a 52-6 drubbing of the Cowboys.
After finishing the year with 120 points in first grade, Ngamu was superb in New Zealand’s home Test campaign at the end of the year, scoring a total of five tries in the 2-0 series defeat of the Kumuls and the 3-0 whitewash of the Lions.
Ngamu relinquished the goalkicking duties to Matthew Ridge for the 1997 Super League season but missed only one premiership game for the third successive year and was superb for the Warriors during the ill-fated World Club Challenge competition. He scored 28 points from a try and 12 goals against Bradford and crossed for a hat-trick as Auckland decimated St Helens.
On the representative scene, Ngamu was at pivot for the inaugural Anzac Test, the 30-12 post-season upset of Super League Australia and New Zealand’s two Super League Tri-Series fixtures.
Save for the odd highlight, the 1998 NRL was disappointing for club and player, and although he played in both end-of-season Tests against Australia, Ngamu left the Warriors mid-season in 1999 – with the likes of Cliff Beverley and Shane Endacott preferred at five-eighth – to link up with English club Huddersfield.
Ngamu played his last Tests for the Kiwis in the 1999 Tri-Nations tournament, coming off the bench in the win over Great Britain and the narrow final loss to Australia. His top-flight career came to an end in 2000 after a Super League season for Huddersfield-Sheffield in which he compiled 160 points, while his representative swansong consisted of matches against Scotland and Ireland for New Zealand Māori at the 2000 World Cup.
Kiwis legends George Menzies and Benji Marshall are the only players to grace the Test arena for New Zealand at five-eighth more times than Ngamu’s 17 appearances.