Saturday, September 25, 2021

I Teach Because I Love

Willie Jackson September 23 at 11:57 PM ·  

Goodbye to the Black Panther. I was saddened to learn about the death of the great Waka Nathan today, who many would rate as the greatest Māori rugby player of his era. I got to know Waka when I was a sports broadcaster on Aotearoa Radio in the early 90s and when he had his butcher shop in Mangere Bridge. He was a very humble but interesting man and I always had excellent conversations with him.

One of those conversations was when I interviewed him for my special show on Māori Rugby Greats. I decided to do that show in the early 90s as a tribute to the Māori players who should have been All Blacks. It always made me angry when I thought about how many great Māori players had missed out on the All Blacks because of the New Zealand Rugby Union’s policy that they would comply with South Africa’s racist direction that no Māori could be selected in All Blacks teams who were to tour South Africa.

The consequences of that meant players were overlooked not just in the year of South African tours but the in-between years also, that angered Waka who actually was quite a conservative, but I will never forget him saying that “Māori players had to be twice as good and in some cases three times as good as Pākeha players to make the All Blacks.” 

That was a huge statement from someone like Waka, who never talked about politics or racism. But the reality was, he was upset with so many of his mates missing out on an All Blacks jersey and just thought it was an appropriate time to talk and I think it’s appropriate to mention it now because Waka wasn’t just the greatest Māori rugby player of his time. But he was a proud and passionate advocate for his people and Māori sport. 

Of course, as a player, he was simply magnificent and it was the French who called him la Panthere Noir or The Black Panther probably a name that would not go down too well today. I know Waka though wasn’t bothered by it at all. He was part of a great All Blacks era and I think in many ways he was the Michael Jones of his time. A strong defender and brilliant attacker. In fact, Collin Meads described him as the most virile runner with the ball in hand. Along with Kel Tremain, they were rated as the two best Flankers in the world. He played 14 test matches from 1962-1967 and never lost a test he also played 88 games for Auckland and is rated as one of the all-time greats. nd he was one of Waka’s greatest fans. 

Waka wrote himself forever into Auckland Rugby folklore when he won the Ranfurly Shield with a last-minute try against Canterbury in 1960. He went on to become a top administrator, coach and contributor to Māori rugby and was one of the reasons why Māori rugby remained and stayed strong in the 1970s and 80s always advocating that Māori rugby was unique with its own flair and style which is ironically exactly how I would describe how Waka played. Yes, Waka Nathan a Mangere and Otahuhu legend having gone to school here in South Auckland, a Ngapuhi, Tainui descendant , Freezing Worker, Butcher, Administrator, Coach, Māori and All Black great must always be celebrated and remembered as part of New Zealand’s rich sports history. 

 No reira e te rangatira Waka, moe mai, moe mai ra.

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