Whetu Taewa made a meteoric rise to international status following his return to Christchurch as a teenager, ultimately touring Great Britain and France twice with the Kiwis during five seasons with Halswell before joining the full-time professional ranks.
A West Coast senior rugby union rep at just 16, Taewa played for the Junior Kiwis against the Junior Kangaroos and was a 17-year-old debutant for West Coast’s rugby league team against Queensland in 1988. The compact three-quarter powerhouse moved back to Christchurch the following season (he was previously a Sydenham rugby union schoolboy) and joined Halswell.
After touring Papua New Guinea with the 1989 Junior Kiwis and turning out in seven matches for Frank Endacott’s Canterbury side, he was a shock selection in the New Zealand’s squad at the end of the season. Taewa, the youngest Kiwi tourist to Britain and France since Dennis Williams 18 years earlier, made his debut on the wing in a narrow win over Castleford. He turned 19 while abroad and finished the controversial tour with five tries from eight appearances (no Tests), including a two-try effort against Featherstone Rovers.
Taewa featured in Canterbury’s famous 18-10 upset of Great Britain in 1990. A try-scorer in the Hornets’ 1991 CRL Grand Final loss, he was part of New Zealand Māori’s 1992 Pacific Cup campaign and represented New Zealand Colts against Great Britain in 1990, France in 1991 and Papua New Guinea in 1992.
Still only 21, Taewa enjoyed a glittering farewell from the Canterbury scene in 1993. He starred in Halswell’s premiership triumph, brought down the curtain on a 37-game tenure in the Canterbury team in the iconic 36-12 demolition of Auckland at Addington Show Grounds, won the Canterbury Player of the Year award for his contributions at club and rep level, and earned a Kiwis recall for the end-of-year trip to Britain and France.
Though the tour was an unsuccessful one for New Zealand, Taewa thrived. He earned a Test debut at centre in a 24-19 win over Wales, came off the bench in all three matches of the series whitewash loss to Great Britain and scored a try from centre in the 36-11 one-off Test defeat of France.
Taewa also secured a contract with the fledgling Auckland Warriors for their impending Winfield Cup entry. He spent the bridging 1994 season with Counties-Manukau Heroes, who lost the inaugural Lion Red Cup Grand Final to North Harbour Sea Eagles, scoring 16 tries in 23 games. Taewa toured Australia with New Zealand Residents and Papua New Guinea with the Kiwis – both coach by Endacott – scoring three tries in three appearances (no Tests) on the latter trip.
By now a specialist centre, Taewa snared a Warriors wing spot for the maiden premiership match against Brisbane Broncos in 1995 popped a memorable offload after a sideline burst for Phil Blake to score the club’s first-ever try. He held a first-grade spot for the opening 10 rounds before falling out of favour, playing just one subsequent game in the top flight off the bench.
Instead, Taewa reunited with Endacott in the Warriors’ reserve grade line-up during the second half of the ’95 season, while he was selected as an interchange for New Zealand’s second-Test draw against France – his last Kiwis call-up.
Taewa played under ex-Kiwis coach Graham Lowe at North Queensland in 1996, turning out in 12 first-grade games for the Cowboys, and featured in New Zealand Māori’s win over Great Britain before heading to the UK Super League.
Two seasons with Sheffield Eagles included a role in one of Wembley’s all-time great boilovers, a 17-8 victory over perennial powerhouse Wigan in the 1998 Challenge Cup final. Taewa hung up the boots in 2002 after a four-season stint with then-second division club Hull KR.
NEW ZEALAND (1989, 1993-94)
6 Tests – 1 try (4 points)
18 tour matches – 10 tries (40 points)
-1989 Kiwis tour of Great Britain and France
-1993 Kiwis tour of Great Britain and France
-1994 Kiwis tour of Papua New Guinea