Born: 2 May, 1982 – Auckland
Test record: 4 Tests (2007) – 1 try (4 points)
Tours: 2007 tour of Britain and France
Giant Wests Tigers winger Taniela Tuiaki represented the Kiwis on the 2007 tour of Britain and France, but his career was tragically cut down in its prime by injury less than two years later.
Auckland-born Tuiaki converted from rugby union and was discovered by the Tigers playing in the forwards for North Curl Curl in northern Sydney.
The 23-year-old made a two-try NRL debut for the defending premiers against the Warriors midway through 2006 and played four matches for Tonga at the end of the year, scoring a try in each.
Tuiaki received a Kiwis call-up after playing all 24 games for the Tigers and scoring eight tries in 2007, debuting on the flank in a record 58-0 loss to the Kangaroos in Wellington.
He subsequently featured in all three Tests of the 3-0 whitewash at the hands of Great Britain, scoring a try in the 28-22 defeat in the third Test in Wigan.
Tuiaki scored nine tries in 20 games for the Tigers in 2008 but was unable to gain a spot in the Kiwis’ World Cup squad, while the IRL blocked Tonga’s attempt to select the bulldozer.
Putting that disappointment aside, Tuiaki enjoyed a phenomenal 2009 campaign for the Tigers. He scored 21 tries – second in the NRL regular season – in 22 games and was named Dally M Winger of the Year, as well as leading the competition for line-breaks and tackle-breaks.
But a terrible broken ankle suffered in a late-season game against Parramatta (after scoring 10 tries in his previous six games) would ultimately force him into retirement in early-2011, failing to make it back onto the field following a series of operations.
Tuiaki continued to give back to the game, however, fulfilling community roles with the NRL more than a decade after becoming one of rugby league’s most celebrated hard-luck stories.