Born: 22 September, 1970 – Auckland
Test record: 5 Tests (1994-95) – 1 try (4 points)
Tours: 1994 tour of Papua New Guinea, 1995 World Cup
Perhaps best remembered as an Auckland Warriors cult hero, Hitro Okesene’s unexpected Test debut for New Zealand came prior to the club’s premiership entry – and after he had already represented Western Samoa.
The hooker/prop was a Junior Kiwi in 1988-89, while he played for Western Samoa at the 1988 Pacific Cup and American Samoa at the 1992 edition. He honed his craft for the Manukau club and on off-season stints with English lower-grade outfit Carlisle during the early-1990s.
Okesene, who debuted for Auckland in 1990, starred for Counties-Manukau Heroes in the inaugural Lion Red Cup in 1994 to earn a spot in the Frank Endacott-coached New Zealand Residents side that toured Australia at the end of the year and, subsequently, Endacott’s Kiwis for the trip to Papua New Guinea.
He played all five matches for the Kiwis and came off the bench in both Tests against the Kumuls.
The nuggetty 24-year-old snared a prop berth for the Warriors’ historic 1995 opener against Brisbane Broncos and became an immediate fan favourite courtesy of his high-octane style on both sides of the ball.
Okesene played 17 matches in the Warriors’ debut season before heading to England for New Zealand’s World Cup tilt. He finished off a crucial try that kick-started the Kiwis’ late fight-back in their nerve-shredding 25-24 defeat of Tonga and was an interchange in the pool match against Papua New Guinea and the extra-time semi-final loss to Australia.
But the wholehearted forward fell out of favour at the Warriors, playing just five top-grade games across the 1996-97 seasons and instead playing in back-to-back reserve grade grand final losses.
Okesene returned to England and had stints with Hull (1998), Featherstone Rovers (1999) and Workington Town (2001-02), as well as French club Catalan (2000).