IWI: Ngati Kahungunu, Ngati Mutunga
MARAE: Korongata (Hastings) Owae (Waitara)
BIRTHPLACE: Hastings (21 September 1953)
IWI: Ngati Kahungunu, Ngati Mutunga
Biography | tuhinga koi ora
‘My father Ngaraurekau (Sandy) Tamati, he is the older brother of Kingsford Rihari (Kingi) Tamati, Howie’s father. My mother, Erana Hapi was from Korongata Hastings, never played sport to representative level but I’m told both were talented’
Kevin was third born in a family of 12, Henry the tuakana followed by Michael, Kevin, John, Maxine, Sandra, Diane, David, Jenny, Christine. A brother David and a sister Louise died at birth. Brothers Michael and John played first fifteen rugby for Hastings Boy’s High School. Michael going on to represent Auckland Maori playing out of the Manukau Rovers Rugby club under Albie Pryor, and these days (2009) plays off scratch in Golf. ‘Dad’s sister Aunty Nan played softball for New Zealand, cousin Lisa Tamati is excelling in her chosen sport of endurance running and another cousin in Auckland Desrae Garratt is a NZ senior tennis rep, Maori seniors tennis champion and a NZ Tennis Umpire.’
Kevin attended Maraekakaho Primary School and Hastings Boy’s High School. He was selected in 1965 to represent Hastings in the Rugby Union Ross Shield Competition. In 1970 he was selected for the 1st XV at Hastings Boy’s High. Kevin left Hastings in 1971. He said he was beginning his first year out of school and wanted to get away from home and out of the rut he saw some of his relations in. He was on his way to the Bluff. He had originally planned to go to the Mormon College in Hamilton, but hadn’t quite saved enough, so decided on plan B. ‘I was going down to get a job at the Ocean Beach Freezing Works,’ he said. ‘I had some contacts who said it was a good place and the money was good, but I didn’t make it. Romance got in the way.’
Kevin bought a train ticket to Wellington and his girlfriend since school days Tira Smith was on the same train. They got off at Wellington. Kevin got accommodation at the Gear Meat Hostel in Petone and took a job there. He was only going to stay a month but the rest, as they say, is history. Southland’s loss was Petone’s gain. The pair eventually married in 1974 tying the knot back in Hastings. He moved to Wellington in 1971, joining the Petone Panthers Rugby League Club. Kevin said he had only seen league on TV and didn’t find it appealing. In Petone, he took up the game and soon developed an enthusiasm for it, gaining selection for the Junior Kiwis in 1973.
In 1975 Kevin moved to the Upper Hutt Tigers Rugby League Club, winning his first selection for the Kiwis in 1979, which would see the start of Kevin playing a further 37games and 22 tests over a six year period for the Kiwis. Kevin moved to Randwick ‘Kingfishers’ at Strand Park (Lower Hutt) in 1981. He played 83 matches for the club. Kevin had joined some of NZ’s finest Kiwi league players who turned out for Randwick, including, Ron Hemi, John Whittaker, Sam Stewart, Barry Harvey, Tony Kemp, Steve Kearney, Denvour Johnson, and George Lajpold. Kevin recalls ten years of playing Rugby League in Wellington.
‘I had the pleasure of playing with some very talented players. At the Petone club, Mike Edmonds was a player I thought deserved a Kiwi jersey. Playing in the centres he was big and strong, ran straight, had a great pass, was tough and read the game very well. Snow Waihi from the Watersiders Club, a big honest front rower who had the natural ability to unload the ball in the tackle. His tackling technique was pretty good also, but Philip Orchard will go down in my book as the best winger ever to play for New Zealand. To get to play alongside him was a dream come true.’
In 1984 Kevin was probably the only player in the history of the game who was able to play for Northcote ‘Tigers’ on Saturday in the Auckland competition and fly down to Wellington to play for Randwick ‘Kingfishers’ on Wednesday nights at Hutt Park. In 1984 Kevin was also selected to play for Auckland against the Touring Great Britain Rugby League side which Auckland won.
In 1982 Kevin accepted a Professional contract to play for ‘Wildnes RLFC’ in the UK, playing for three seasons. In 1984 Widnes played Wigan in the Challenge Cup Final at Wembley Stadium, in front of a crowd of 100,000. Kevin and his Widnes team mates were to strong for Wigan and it was Kevin who lifted the Challenge Cup in victory.
‘Before the game I went with some of the guys to the bookies and noticed I was paying 90 pounds to win the Lance Todd Trophy, (Man of the Match), so I put 20 pounds on myself,’ he recalled. ‘I came close to picking up the award but, got pipped at the line by Joe Lydon. The press men told me I was leading till Joe scored his second try. I wouldn’t have minded, had I not set up both his tries, the first of Joe’s tries came when I pulled the Wigan full back Shaun Edwards into the tackle and slipped the ball round the back of him to give to Joe who had no one in front of him jogging 80 metres to score. For his second, I ‘pole-axed’ their halfback David Stephenson he dropped the ball Joe picked it up and ran another 80 metres, unchallenged.’ Playing for Wigan that day was cousin Howie Tamati, Graham West and fellow Kiwi Danny Campbell.
In 1985 he moved to neighbouring club Warrington and had some success with the ‘Wire’, winning the Lancashire Cup and Premiership Trophy in 1988. Kevin turned out 116 times for the club. The high point was winning Premiership Cup Final in 1988. During this time Kevin played with Great Britain players Mick Adams, Eric Hughes, Joe Lydon, Andy Gregory, Mike Gregory; Australian players, Les Boyd, Steve Roach, Bob Jackson, Phil Blake and Les Davidson, and Kiwi test players Kurt Sorenson, Esene Faimalo, Shane Cooper, Julian O’Neil and Mark Elia.
In 1989 Kevin turned to coaching, firstly as Head Coach of Salford RLFC (UK) where he won the First Division League Championship (1990) and First Division Premiership Championship (1990). In 1994 he took over as head coach of second division, Chorley Borough RLFC (UK) before moving on to Lancashire Lynx RLFC where he won the Second Division League Championship (1996). In 1998 he was head coach for the Second Division Whitehaven ‘Warriors’.
Kevin recalls, ‘I enjoyed my time playing and coaching in the UK and strongly recommend to all who get the opportunity, to go. It’s a chance not to be missed’. Kevin and cousin Howie played out their international careers together from 1979 to 1985, upholding the mana of their whanau, hapu and iwi, proudly representing New Zealand, New Zealand Maori, Central Districts and their Provinces – Taranaki and Wellington.
Quote from Neil Dowson, Warrington Wolves
‘Kevin was a popular player with both the fans and his team mates who played for 4 years at Wilderspool for Warrington. Below is the article that appears in the book ‘100 Warrington Greats’ by Gary Slater and Eddie Fuller.
‘After his first few Test appearances for New Zealand against the Kangaroos, the Australian press nicknamed Kevin Tamati ‘Terrible Tamati’. The journalists were not being disrespectful. They were using the word terrible as in ‘Ivan the Terrible’, the Russian Tsar – absolutely terrifying.
Rugby League writer and broadcaster Ray French summed it up best: ‘Fiercely patriotic, Tamati haunted his opponents as if New Zealand’s destiny itself depended upon every tackle made. He led charges in the middle of the field and, when through the opposition defence, he could lay off the ball to the backs with the skill and precision of a classy half back.’
Tamati had mellowed, but only slightly by the time he joined Warrington in August 1985, one month short of his 32nd birthday. He was still a formidable competitor however, and won his 22nd and final Kiwi cap against Great Britain in the drawn third Test at Elland Road that November.
At 5ft 10in and 15 stones, Tamati was ideally built for service in the front row, but it was not until Tony Barrow took over as Warrington’s caretaker coach in March 1986 that he was switched to the number 9 jersey. It was an inspired move and the front row of Les Boyd, Kevin Tamati and Bob Jackson is still revered in Warrington.
All three scored tries as Warrington overwhelmed Halifax 38-10 to lift the Premiership Trophy in May 1986. Tamati scored a crucial try when the sides were locked at 10-10 just after half-time. After being hauled down close to the try line, Tamati played the ball to himself and crashed over to the delight of his team-mates and the travelling Wire fans.
Inevitably, Tamati pushed Boyd all the way for the Harry Sunderland man of the match award. Similarly, while he was with Widnes, Tamati had just been pipped by team-mate Joe Lydon for the Lance Todd prize as the Chemics defeated Wigan 19-6 in the 1984 Challenge Cup Final. When his playing days were over, Tamati worked as Warrington rugby league development officer and was in charge of the club’s A team before being snapped up as Salford coach in October 1989. Tamati spent four years at the Willows, winning the Second Division title and Premiership, and he also coached Chorley and Whitehaven’.’
‘I am the same age as Kevin and played against him at Vets rugby union level a number of times and we always enjoyed a good tussle and a drink and a chat afterwards. He worked as Warrington rugby league development officer for many years even when coaching other clubs. He taught many youngsters the basics of rugby league, including my two sons. He continued to live and work in Warrington until his return to New Zealand a few years ago.
There is a story that when he was coach of Whitehaven (which is a two hour drive from home) that to save time and money he would stay up there after training and sleep on the floor of the changing rooms. Kevin was a great bloke, fondly remembered by many and is missed in Warrington.’ -Regards, Neil Dowson.
In 2004 Kevin returned to New Zealand to set up home again back in Hastings where it all began. His wife Tira returned a year later. Damon their eldest son was living in Australia and he influenced his younger brother and sister to join him so Renaye and Nathan flew to Sydney to try life there. Kevin had another stint at coaching, this time in 2006 as Head Coach of New Zealand Maori Rugby League leading this side to a victory over Fiji at St Mary’son the Gold Coast in Australia. On returning to New Zealand Kevin resigned as coach claiming he had to many work commitments and very little free time. While he was a true professional sportsman with great all-round skills and an uncompromising attitude on the field, combined with his athleticism and strength to stand up to the rigors of combating the best front rowers in world rugby league, he is bemused (and somewhat irritated) by the enduring legacy of ‘the brawl’ he had with Greg Dowling in that volatile test match against Australia in 1985. He would rather be remembered for all the positive deeds he has done over his long and successful rugby league career and remain a role model for aspiring rugby league rangatahi.
CURRENTLY: (September 2009) Kevin Lives in Hastings with wife Tira, their two boys are living in Sydney and their daughter is married and lives in Rotorua. Kevin is employed by O’Reilly Limited in the service of Ministry of Health, delivering CAYAD programs and working with Youth in sport fitness and health. He is also Rugby League Referee coordinator for Hawkes Bay Rugby League.
Kevin is the chief organiser of a whanau reunion of Pononga and Hana Nikuru and Houangi Tamehana at Owae Marie, Taranaki on 22,23,24,25 January 2010
Achievements | tutukitanga
Hastings Ross Shield Rugby team 1965
Hastings Boy’s High School 1XV 1970
Petone Panthers 1972, 73, 74
Upper Hutt ‘Tigers 1975, 76, 77, 78, 79, 80
Randwick ‘Kingfishers’ 1981
Northcote Tigers 1984, 85
Wellington Rugby League Team 1972, 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, 78, 79, 80, 81, 82
Auckland Rugby League Team 1984
New Zealand Māori Rugby League 1975, 80,
Central Districts Rugby League 1975, 76
Kiwi’s Rugby League (22 tests, 37games) 1979, 80, 81, 82, 83, 84, 85
Widnes RLFC (UK) 96 appearances 1982, 83, 84, 85
Challenge Cup Final Champions Widnes 1984
Warrington RLFC (UK) 116 appearances 1985, 86, 87, 88
Premiership Cup Final Champions Warrington 1986
First Division League Champions Salford 1990
First Division Premiership Champions Salford 1990
Snd. Division League Champions Lancashire Lynx 1996
Head Coach Salford RLFC (UK) 1989, 90, 91, 92, 93
Head Coach Second Division Chorley Borough 1994, 95, 96, 97
Head Coach Second Division Whitehaven ‘Warriors’ 1998, 99, 00, 01, 02, 03, 04
Head Coach New Zealand Maori Rugby League 2006
1990 Inducted to the NZ Rugby League ‘Legends of League’