The outpouring of emotional tributes for Quentin Pongia from every corner of the rugby league world following his death, aged just 48, featured several common threads. As a player, he was widely described as an uncompromising, durable, fearless competitor. But, above all, tough – one of the toughest of his era. Off the field, warm with a heart of gold and universally respected.


Pongia played 35 Tests for the Kiwis from 1992-2000 – a tally behind only Gary Freeman, Stephen Kearney, Jock Butterfield and Dane O’Hara at the time of his last appearance, and still equal-13th in Kiwis history two decades later.


“As tough a forward as any that played for the Kiwis, I’m sure of that – and it’s not surprising when you look at his background as the grandson of Jim Calder, who was a legend on the West Coast and a Kiwi in the 1930s,” acclaims veteran rugby league journalist, author and historian John Coffey.


“He was in the mould of guys like (1960s Kiwi Test props) Maunga Emery and Sam Edwards, surging forward without a backwards step.”


Born in Greymouth where he first played senior football with the Suburbs club, the 17-year-old Pongia moved to Canterbury in 1988 and represented the Junior Kiwis from the Riccarton club.


“(In 1988) I was a guest speaker for the Riccarton end-of-year dinner,” recalls Pongia’s former Canterbury and New Zealand coach, Frank Endacott.


“At the end (of my speech) I said, ‘there’s a young man in this room right now’ – and I’d only met him to say hello, but I’d seen him play a couple of matches – ‘that I believe will go on to play for his country and play in the [Australian premiership]’. I didn’t mention his name, but I had a number of people come up to me and ask who I was talking about; I said, ‘that bloke over there’. And sure enough Quentin went right through to the top.”


The raw second-rower, who subsequently transferred to Linwood, earned a maiden Test call-up to face Papua New Guinea in 1992 shortly before his 22nd birthday and played in the ensuing series against touring Great Britain. He also represented New Zealand Māori  in 1992 and was virtually an automatic Kiwis selection when available for the next eight years.


“He’s right up there with anyone – you talk to the Rubens (Wiki) and Staceys (Jones) that played with him, they will tell you they loved playing with Quentin Pongia,” Endacott continues.


“I’ve spoken to Australians and English players who say he’s the hardest player they every played against. He was a tough nut and a guy we all loved.


“He was the only 80-minute prop in the world at the time and if I brought him off 10 minutes early, he’d give me the message – he hated coming off. And the tougher it was, the better he went.”


Pongia linked with Australian heavyweight Canberra in 1993, toured Britain and France with the Kiwis at the end of that season and was a tower of strength in the Raiders’ charge to premiership glory after shifting to prop in 1994.


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“I brought (Pongia) and (Wellington prop John) Lomax to our first training session for 1993 and they just started belting blokes,” Raiders coach Tim Sheens revealed in 2019.


“I’ll never forget the look on Laurie Daley’s face. He couldn’t believe how hard as nails they were for new blokes. He looked at me and said, ‘Bloody hell – where did you find these two guys?’


“(Pongia) saved us. We lost guys like Glenn Lazarus up front and could have really struggled. But from day one, ‘Q’ was a colossus. He was so competitive on the field that he gave us that hard edge again and a year later, he was in the team that won the grand final.”


An aggressive, confrontational style ensured he was a frequent visitor to the judiciary, but Pongia nevertheless played 21 consecutive Tests for New Zealand from 1995-98.


Pongia’s international tenure peaked in 1998 during a one-season stay with the Warriors, playing an inspirational role in the Kiwis’ famous Anzac Test defeat of Australia at North Harbour, captaining his country in four post-season Tests – including a historic series win in Great Britain – and winning the New Zealand player of the year award.


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“I knew how much respect he had from the players. He wasn’t an after-dinner speaker, but he was a player that led from the front – he’d say ‘follow me’ and everyone would, no questions asked. That’s why he was my captain,” Endacott explains.


Still a world-class performer in the engine-room into his thirties, Pongia bowed out of the international arena after New Zealand’s loss to Australia in the 2000 World Cup final. The latter stages of a colourful, globetrotting club career encompassed stints with Sydney Roosters (1999-2001), French outfit Villeneuve (2002-03), St George Illawarra (2003) and Wigan (2003-04), featuring in Super League grand final and Challenge Cup final losses with the Cherry and Whites before hanging up the boots.


Post-playing, Pongia returned to Canberra as a strength and conditioning coach and NRL assistant coach at the Raiders, aided the Kiwis as a trainer and was a wellbeing officer for Manly Sea Eagles.


‘Q’ faced his cancer battle, which he lost in 2019, with the same courage, resilience and humility that characterised one of the era’s great New Zealand rugby league careers.


“Quentin is the toughest individual I have ever played with and I know how hard he fought to beat this terrible disease. He will be sorely missed right across the rugby league community,” Canberra legend Ricky Stuart said after Pongia’s death.


“He was an icon of the game, a great bloke and a fearless player. He had a huge identity in the game during his playing career and it’s just really tragic to see cancer take another great man way too early.”





Clubs: Suburbs (Greymouth), Riccarton, Linwood, Canberra Raiders, Auckland Warriors, Sydney Roosters, Villeneuve, St George Illawarra Dragons, Wigan Warriors

Provinces: Canterbury


New Zealand Representative:


1992  1 Test v Papua New Guinea

1992  2 Tests v Great Britain

1993  1 Test v Australia

1993  1 Test in Wales

1993  3 Tests in Great Britain

1993  1 Test in France

1995  2 Tests v France

1995  3 Tests in Australia

1995  3 Tests at World Cup (England)

1996  2 Tests v Papua New Guinea

1996  3 Tests v Great Britain

1997  2 Tests v Australia (home and away)

1998  3 Tests v Australia (home and away)

1998  3 Tests in Great Britain

2000  5 Tests at World Cup (England)


Total Test Appearances: 35 matches – 2 tries (8 points)

Total Matches Played: 43 matches – 2 tries (8 points)




Kiwis captain in 4 Tests (1998)

New Zealand Player of the Year (1998)

June 24, 2022

New Zealand Rugby League (NZRL) has inducted, for the first time in its history, four Kiwi Ferns to its prestigious Legends of League. Congratulations to Kiwi Fern legends, Luisa Avaiki, Nadene Conlon, Trish Hina and Leah Witehira who now join the esteemed Legends’ Club.

Also receiving the top New Zealand Rugby League honour are Kevin Iro, Stacey Jones, James Leuluai, Sir Graham Lowe, Dane O’Hara, Quentin Pongia, Howie Tamati and Ruben Wiki.

Expanding the NZRL Legends of League further has been a long time coming – and the return of the Kiwis and Kiwi Ferns to the Test arena after a three-year, COVID-enforced hiatus seems the perfect juncture to honour a new batch of inductees.

A six-strong panel made up of NZRL President, NZRL Life Member and former Kiwis captain and coach Howie Tamati, NZRL Life Member and 1994-2000 Kiwis coach Frank Endacott, 1990s Kiwi and 2008 Legends of League inductee Tawera Nikau, 1995 Kiwi Ferns original and long-serving NZRL Kiwis and National Teams Manager Nadene Conlon, former NZRL Director Elizabeth Richards, and rugby league journalist, author and NZRL historian Will Evans heeded the call in recent months to run the rule over dozens of worthy candidates.

Building on the recent work to recognise and celebrate the New Zealand women’s team’s history, the historic decision was made to induct an initial group of four Kiwi Ferns to the Legends of League, along with eight new Kiwis selections.

The key criteria set down for Legends of League recognition were: longevity, leadership, achievement and performance at international level (first and foremost) as well as club and provincial level; enhancing rugby league’s standing in New Zealand; and post-playing contribution to the game. Having been retired for at least five years – a directive since the establishment of the Legends of League in 1995 – remains a requirement.

Ruben Wiki and Stacey Jones narrowly missed the five-year retirement cut-off when the last batch of Legends of League were inducted in 2013 – and their inclusion this time around was essentially a fait accompli.

The Auckland juniors and long-time Kiwis teammates, who played 101 Test matches between them in the 1990s and 2000s, were the only New Zealand Team of the Century selections yet to receive Legends of League recognition. In 2019, Wiki and Jones – both esteemed Kiwi captains and universally admired for their impact on the Australian premiership – joined Mark Graham as the only New Zealanders in the NRL Hall of Fame in 2019.

The outpouring of emotional tributes for 35-Test Kiwi Quentin Pongia from every corner of the rugby league world following his death in 2019 from cancer, aged just 48, reflected the esteem in which he is held in the game. Widely revered as one of the toughest and most durable and uncompromising forwards of any era, the West Coast-bred, Canterbury provincial rep and Canberra Raiders premiership winner was a Kiwis engine-room cornerstone from 1992-2000 and captained New Zealand to Test series glory in Great Britain in 1998.

‘The Beast’ moniker illustrated the powerful impact Kevin Iro had as a blockbusting centre or winger in the Kiwi jersey for more than a decade, and on the British and Australian club scenes for 15 seasons. Aucklander Iro scored 16 tries in 34 Tests from 1987-98 and starred in a host of Challenge Cup final and Super League grand finals with Wigan, Leeds and St Helens.

The remaining four Kiwis Legends of League places went to key figures of the Kiwis’ halcyon 1980s era that featured so many ground-breaking victories.

The ultra-versatile James Leuluai played Tests in four different backline positions – but it is as brilliant, elusive centre that he is chiefly remembered. A breath-taking sidestep and blinding acceleration garnered 14 tries in 29 Tests.

Leuluai also produced some unforgettable Challenge Cup moments at Wembley with Hull FC, where he played alongside Auckland and Kiwis teammate and fellow 2022 Legends of League inductee Dane O’Hara.

Dubbed the ‘Rolls Royce of wingers’, O’Hara was a prolific try-scorer – including 14 touchdowns in a then-record-equalling 36 Test appearances for New Zealand – but was equally revered for his professionalism, dedication and leadership. He captained the Kiwis against Australia in 1980, a rare feat for a winger.

Taranaki hooker Howie Tamati was another vital component of New Zealand’s international rugby league renaissance, playing the last 19 of his 24 Tests for the Kiwis in succession, captaining his country against Papua New Guinea in 1983 and featuring prominently in watershed triumphs over Australia and Great Britain. Tamati, one of the game’s great servants, later coached the Kiwis in 1992-93 and began a long tenure as NZRL President – a post he continues to hold with pride and enthusiasm – in 2013.

Previous inductees such as Scotty McClymont, Lory Blanchard and Ces Mountford enhanced their case for inclusion by coupling esteemed playing careers with outstanding tenures as coach of the Kiwis. But Sir Graham Lowe has broken new Legends of League ground as the first inductee (aside from referee John Percival) without a prominent playing background.

After cutting his teeth at Ellerslie in the 1970s, Lowe became one of the most influential and revolutionary figures in the code’s history in New Zealand. The national team’s outstanding results under Lowe’s tutelage from 1983-86 heralded a turning point for the Kiwis, while his achievements and status as a club coach at Norths Devils, Wigan and Manly Sea Eagles, as well as State of Origin level with Queensland, are virtually unmatched by a New Zealander.

Luisa Avaiki’s inclusion as one of the first four Kiwi Ferns Legends of League was never in doubt. One of just three players to feature in New Zealand’s first three World Cup triumphs, Avaiki was the only 1995 original still playing when the Kiwi Ferns carried off the 2008 title. Meanwhile, the front-row powerhouse’s role as captain of the 2003 and ’08 World Cup successes underline her status as one of women’s rugby league’s finest leaders, and she has gone on to carve out a highly successful career in coaching and development post-playing.

Another 1995 original, Nadene Conlon’s distinguished standing as a women’s rugby league pioneer and long-serving, high-achieving Kiwi Ferns leader is matched only by her towering off-field contributions to the game. The 2000 World Cup-winning co-captain – admired for her tireless performances as a backbone of the Kiwi Ferns’ pack – has spent more than two decades working in rugby league coaching, development, administration and management with Auckland Rugby League, the Warriors and NZRL, while few have done as much to drive women’s rugby league’s progress.

Trish Hina has been described as one of New Zealand’s greatest sportswomen, representing her country in rugby league, rugby union, touch football and softball. But the Wellington five-eighth undoubtedly made her biggest impact in the 13-a-side game. Arguably women’s rugby league’s first genuine superstar, Hina’s Kiwi Ferns tenure spanned 13 years and her linchpin role in three World Cup triumphs included two player of the tournament nods. The record-breaking try-scorer and goalkicker boasted a game-breaking kitbag of skill, vision and pace unmatched among her contemporaries.

Leach Witehira was a prominent figure on New Zealand’s trail-blazing tour of Australia in 1995 and later formed a stellar halves combination with Hina as the Kiwi Ferns won the first two World Cups. Witehira was a prolific try-scorer at international level, a steady playmaking influence and key leader as the Ferns cemented their status as the dominant force in women’s rugby league.

New Zealand Rugby League congratulates the 12 new members of the Legends of League – a richly-deserved honour for some of the Kiwis’ and Kiwi Ferns’ best ever.


Kevin Iro
Stacey Jones
James Leuluai
Sir Graham Lowe
Dane O’Hara
Quentin Pongia
Howie Tamati
Ruben Wiki

Kiwi Ferns
Luisa Avaiki
Nadene Conlon
Trish Hina
Leah Witehira


New Zealand rugby league has lost a legend.


It’s with great sorrow that we announce Kiwi #634 and Warrior #52, Quentin Pongia, lost his battle with bowel cancer on Saturday, May 18th, 2019.


Originally from the West Coast, Pongia moved to Canterbury at 18 in 1988. He crossed the Tasman in 1993 to play for Canberra, winning a premiership with them the following year. He remained with the club through to the end of 1997 before joining the Warriors in 1998, followed by the Roosters, Dragons and Wigan.


The relentless prop played 137 NRL games in his 13-year career, in which he gained a reputation as one of the game’s most feared players. On top of this, he also leaves behind a legacy carved by his black and white jersey.


Quentin represented the Kiwis 35 times between 1992 and 2000. He played a monumental role in New Zealand’s back-to-back victories over the Kangaroos at North Harbour Stadium in the 1990s, he then went on to captain the 1998 touring team that remains the only Kiwis side unbeaten from a three-test series in England, also earning himself New Zealand Rugby League player of the year.


In 2004, Quentin hung up his boots while signed with Wigan when it was discovered that he suffered from the contagious blood disorder hepatitis B. However, his involvement in rugby league didn’t end there. Pongia remained in the game when his playing days finished, having time on Canberra’s football staff and more recently he worked in the wellbeing area for the NRL, the Rugby League Players’ Association and lastly the Manly Sea Eagles.


He was also on the Kiwis’ staff for the 2009 end of season Four Nations campaign in the United Kingdom and France.


In an interview with last year, Quentin said “I’m a passionate Kiwi. That will never change … I’ve been away for 25 years in Australia, but I’m still black and white…It’s something that’s pretty close to my heart.”


A gentleman on and off the field, a legend of the game and a true friend to many. New Zealand Rugby League passes on their condolences to Quentin’s friends and family.



“Like a number of players who played with him, I have nothing but respect and a wonderful friendship with Quentin and although it saddens me to hear of the news, it comforts me to know he has no pain now. Quentin is the toughest individual I have ever played with and I know how hard he fought to beat this terrible disease. He will be sorely missed right across the rugby league community.” – Current Canberra coach and former teammate, Ricky Stuart.


“A legend, an absolute legend of rugby league. He played the game full on all the time, gave no quarter and the same with his cancer, he fought it until the bitter end – a wonderful man.” Sir Peter Leitch.


Vodafone Warriors and Kiwis hooker Issac Luke tweeted: “Farrrrrout this has saddened our @NRL and @NZRL_Kiwis  community. Moe mai rā tōku tuakana. Thoughts and love to Q’s whanau. No more pain now brother. Only memories of how tough you were as a player on and off the field. May you rest in Love.”


Ex-Kiwi and Vodafone Warriors centre Nigel Vagana tweeted: “My @NZRL_Kiwis debut .. the 1st Anzac Test.. Johnny Lomax got hurt in opening 30secs. Q had to play 80mins in the front row, 1st game back after a long suspension & led us to victory. One of the toughest ever in the Black & White. Ka kite ano Uso.”


Very sad to hear the passing of Quentin Pongia. One of the toughest NRL players of modern rugby league, and that reflected especially when he represented the Kiwis” – Kiwi and Manly Sea Eagles player, Martin Taupau tweeted.


“Being born in NZ but growing up in Oz, I found myself always following Kiwi players, regardless of the club jersey they wore. Quentin Pongia was one of the toughest to ever wear the black jersey and I’m so grateful to have known him. Rest In Peace Q” – Former Kiwi, Dene Halatau tweeted.


We invite you to join us at a luncheon hosted by Sir Peter Leitch, in support of Quentin’s family at the Ellerslie Event Centre on June 7.


Photo – PhotosportNZ

“My heart is black and white, it’s always been like that” – Quentin Pongia talks with us about his rugby league career.