Powerhouse centre/back-rower David Kidwell played 25 Tests for New Zealand and made 209 first-grade appearances in a career encompassing stints with five NRL clubs, while he later had a less auspicious 14-month tenure as Kiwis coach.
The Hornby junior captained the 1992 New Zealand Schoolboys on a tour of Australia and represented Junior Kiwis in 1995-96 (skipper in the latter year). Kidwell, just 18, was also a regular for Canterbury Country Cardinals and made a tryscoring provincial debut for Canterbury in a win over Auckland in 1995.
Kidwell’s first-grade debut came in 1997 for Super League expansion club Adelaide Rams, while he was snapped up by Parramatta after the Rams folded in late-1998.
Used exclusively as a centre at club level in 1999, Kidwell played all 26 games for the high-flying Eels. His first-grade career was still only 23 games old when he was chosen to debut off the bench in the Kiwis’ gallant 20-14 Anzac Test loss in Sydney the day after his 22nd birthday.
Kidwell played all three matches of New Zealand’s fine Tri-Nations campaign off the pine – as well as a tryscoring effort at centre against Tonga – at the end of the season. He was retained for the 2000 Anzac Test assignment despite playing in reserve grade for Parramatta but missed the Kiwis’ World Cup squad and instead played in all three of Aotearoa New Zealand Māori’s matches at the tournament.
A hard-hitting defender and powerful ball-runner, Kidwell joined English club Warrington in 2001 before being lured back to the NRL early in 2002 by Sydney Roosters. He was a regular interchange fixture as the Roosters stormed into the top four – making 19 appearances – but missed out on the club’s Grand Final triumph over the Warriors.
A move to Melbourne proved a career kick-starter. Kidwell missed just two games over the next four seasons, making 103 appearances for the Storm in all (primarily as a back-rower) – culminating in agonising Grand Final defeat to Brisbane in 2006. He also earned a Kiwis recall with four Test appearances in 2004, another seven in 2005 – including the iconic Tri-Nations final victory over Australia at Leeds – before being the only player to feature in each of New Zealand’s seven Tests in 2006.
Kidwell’s barnstorming try was a rare highlight for the Kiwis in their 50-12 Anzac Test loss in 2006.
The enforcer’s bone-rattling hit on outspoken Kangaroos giant Willie Mason during the 2006 Tri-Nations ranks among international rugby league’s most memorable moments of the decade.
A valued acquisition by rebuilding South Sydney for 2007, Kidwell was made co-captain by the foundation club but a freak knee injury – after tripping over his daughter at a family barbecue – sidelined him for five months and brought his run of 14 consecutive Tests to an end. But he returned in time for the Rabbitohs’ first finals match in 18 years and featured in the All Golds’ 100-year anniversary clash with Northern Union in Warrington at the end of the year.
Kidwell played 33 games for Souths during 2008-09, taking his career tally to 209, and made a solitary appearance at the 2008 World Cup – coming off the bench in a pool win over England, his last Test – before hanging up the boots.
Kidwell immediately joined the coaching ranks, leading the Rabbitohs’ Under-20s team to the 2010 NYC Grand Final, where they lost to the Warriors. He had subsequent stints as an NRL assistant with the Storm and Wests Tigers.
After serving as an assistant to Stephen Kearney in the Kiwis’ set-up from 2014, Kidwell was pitched into the top job at short notice ahead of the 2016 Four Nations following Kearney’s decision to accept the head coach role at the Warriors. The Kiwis beat England, lost to Australia and drew with Scotland during the tournament to qualify for the final, where they comfortably beaten by the Kangaroos at Liverpool.
A 30-12 loss in the last-ever mid-season Anzac Test in 2017 was compounded by off-field misbehaviour by senior players, while the end-of-year World Cup campaign started promisingly with big wins over Samoa and Scotland but spiralled into disaster with a pool-stage loss to Tonga and a quarter-final defeat at the hands of another second-tier nation, Fiji.
Kidwell opted not to reapply for the Kiwis head coach position but took on a role as an assistant at Parramatta in 2018, while he coached Māori All Stars against Indigenous All Stars in 2020 (a 30-16 win) and 2021 (a 10-all draw).
NEW ZEALAND (PLAYER – 1999-2000, 2004-06, 2008)
25 Tests – 4 tries (16 points)
-1999 Kiwis Tri-Nations squad
-2004 Kiwis Tri-Nations squad
-2005 Kiwis Tri-Nations squad
-2006 Kiwis Tri-Nations squad
-2008 Kiwis World Cup squad
NEW ZEALAND (COACH – 2016-17)
10 Tests (3 wins, 6 losses, 1 draw)
-2016 Four Nations
-2017 Rugby League World Cup