Born: 25 December, 1972 – Auckland
Test record: 10 Tests (1985-89) – 5 tries (20 points)
Tours: 1985 tour of Great Britain and France, 1986 tour of Australia and Papua New Guinea, 1987 tour of Australia and Papua New Guinea, 1989 tour of Great Britain and France
Versatile backline performer Mark Elia played 10 Tests for the Kiwis during the second half of the 1980s and had stints with English powerhouse St Helens and high-profile Sydney club Canterbury-Bankstown.
A genuine sporting all-rounder, Elia was a record-setting try-scorer for the Te Atatu club and a world-ranked sprinter (he had a personal best of 10.35 seconds over 100 metres), while a cricket stint with English county side Surrey in 1983 began his long sporting association in Britain.
The former Te Atatu Roosters flyer was a prolific tryscorer during two seasons at Kent Invicta and Southend Invicta in the mid-1980s. He unwittingly caused a sensation in the town when supporters thought the club had snared Australian rugby union superstar Mark Ella but was a standout crowd favourite all the same.
Elia cut his second year with Invicta short to return to New Zealand in 1985 and make his Test debut off the bench in the Kiwis’ heartbreaking 26-20 series-opening loss to Australia. He toured Britain and France with the national side at the end of the year, wining a solitary Test cap as a reserve against France among 14 appearances. He subsequently joined St Helens.
The 23-year-old played two Tests against Australia (one as a reserve and one at centre) and one against Papua New Guinea in 1986, then returned to England and scored a try in Saints’ 1987 Challenge Cup final loss to Halifax. He crossed for a double in New Zealand’s tough win over Papua New Guinea in Port Moresby and featured on the wing in the boilover upset of Australia at Lang Park in ’87.
Although he was part of Te Atatu’s Fox Memorial-winning side in 1988, Elia’s only international appearance that year was on the flank in the Kiwis’ demoralising 25-12 loss to the green-and-golds in the Eden Park-hosted World Cup final.
Nevertheless, he was snapped up by Canterbury for the 1989 season and was a highly-anticipated acquisition for Phil Gould’s defending premiers, effectively bought as a replacement for Brisbane-bound Australia Test back Tony Currie. Elia played only nine games for the struggling, internally-split champs at wing, centre, fullback and off the bench.
Elia played on the wing for New Zealand in the first and third Tests against the Australian tourists midway through ’89, posting a four-pointer in each loss. Elia scored seven tries in six tour matches in Britain and France at the end of the year – his Kiwis swansong – but was not chosen for the Tests.
He had subsequent stints with Northcote Tigers in Auckland, French club Albi, and British outfits Halifax, Widnes and St Helens again in the first half of the 1990s, as well as representing Auckland whenever home and available. He played for Western Samoa at the 1995 World Cup (under his former Kiwis coach Graham Lowe), featuring in both of the emerging rugby league nation’s pool matches as an interchange.
Elia coached Hawkes Bay Unicorns in the 1996 Lion Red Cup.