Born: 31 July, 1981 – Wellington
Test record: 16 Tests (2004-07) – 4 tries (16 points)
Tours: 2004 Tri Nations, 2005 Tri Nations, 2007 tour of Great Britain and France
Elusive Wellington-born centre Paul Whatuira began his NRL career with the Warriors but went on to become a dual premiership-winner across the Tasman with Penrith and Wests Tigers, as well as a veteran of 16 Tests for New Zealand from 2004-07.
A Wainuiomata product, Whatuira won a scholarship with the Warriors and represented Junior Kiwis in 1999. Whatuira came off the bench in five games for the Warriors in 2000 and represented New Zealand Māori at the World Cup at the end of the year before signing with Melbourne for the following season, featuring on the wing early in 2001.
The 20-year-old’s big break came with another move, this time to the Panthers. Scoring five tries in 10 games in the second half of 2002, Whatuira earned a new contract with the club and was a vital component in Penrith’s surge to the minor premiership and shock grand final triumph, missing just one game in 2003 and crossing for 10 tries.
Deceptively quick with great footwork and a fine ball-distributing centre, Whatuira was rewarded for his brilliant season with his first Test jersey in the 2004 Anzac Test. He was a mainstay in the Panthers backline for their premiership defence, which ended a week short of the grand final. Whatuira played in three post-season Tests for the Kiwis in 2004 – the first two Tri Nations clashes with Australia and the one-off encounter with France.
Whatuira joined his fourth NRL club in 2005 and was one of the competition’s buys of the year for Wests Tigers; 18 tries from 27 games placed him sixth in the NRL and heformed a formidable right-side combination with winger Pat Richards on the way to a stunning premiership victory.
On the international scene, Whatuira was a key member of the Kiwis’ memorable 2005 campaign, playing six of their seven Tests and scoring a try in the historic 24-0 whitewash of Australia in the Tri Nations final. Whatuira retained his spot for the 2006 Anzac Test but injury wrecked his NRL season – though he was a potent tryscorer while on the field, crossing for seven tries in 12 games.
Whatuira had his Tigers swansong in 2007 and played another five Tests in New Zealand’s disastrous post-season campaign against Australia, Great Britain and France – scoring tries in three of those matches – before joining Super League side Huddersfield. He was a handy acquisition for the Giants, playing all 67 games and scoring 26 tries across three seasons for the club.
A return to the NRL with Parramatta garnered just one appearance in first grade, but he later inspired many with his frank revelations of his long and difficult battle with mental health challenges.