Maniapoto rugby legends remembered on Te Ao with Moana

By Te Ao with MOANA

Huriwaha, Manu, and Nepia Maniapoto - 2nd row from back - 2, 3, 6 from left / File

Moana Maniapoto takes a trip down memory lane to visit the Whakarewarewa Rugby Club in Rotorua.

The club is synonymous with her father Nepia Maniapoto and his four brothers – Hitiri, Manu, Jim and Huri - all of whom played for Whakarewarewa.  Three of the brothers - Manu, Jim and Huri - were Māori All Blacks, while Nepia played for the K-Force team during the Korean War.  

Moana's Grandfather Hema Maniapoto holding his eldest son Hitiri  / File.

Despite the siblings’ prowess, they all rated their oldest brother Hitiri as the best rugby player until he was injured during the Korean war.  Known as gentle giants because of their tall stature and gentlemanly dispositions off field, the brothers inherited their love of rugby from their father Hema Maniapoto.

Sadly Nepia and his brothers have passed away, the last being Jim in June 2019.  Their legacy lives on though at Whakarewarewa Rugby Club and with the Māori All Blacks.  Moana’s younger brother Maru is the liaison officer for the current Māori All Blacks and her extended whānau are still active stalwarts at Whakarewarewa.

Reverend Bob Schuster, one of oldest surviving members of Whakarewarewa Rugby Club, remembers playing alongside the Maniapoto brothers.   The 87-year old says back in the day they played for the love of rugby and had a different training regime to today.

“We were pretty poor in those days so we made up our own fitness programmes,” recalls Bob.  “Like running on the roads, up in the hills.  I guess today it’s more professional and we just enjoy watching it today.”

Moana with Lipi Sinnott / File.

As a child, Moana remembers being immersed in rugby culture because everyone in her whānau was rugby mad.  However she admits being the odd one out as she had no interest in the game and still doesn’t understand rugby rules.

"Growing up, I was always asked - are you Manu or Jimmy or Huri’s niece? I was very proud of them. They were lovely men. Huge. Good looking. I thought they were movie stars when I saw them turn up in their rugby best. And I tell you, after rugby - singing was their next obsession. After cooking the hangi, they would morph into a do-wop group and entertain manuhiri to our marae. Legends for singing. They set a high bar for the next generation in terms of both sports and singing." 

During filming, Moana sat down to talk with Bay of Plenty rugby administrators Mark Seymour (Eastern Bay of Plenty Rugby Regional Manager) and Lipi Sinnott (Central Bay of Plenty Regional Manager) about the impact of professional rugby on club rugby. 

Lipi Sinnott (left) and Hika Reid (right) / File.

She also spoke to former All Black Hika Reid about the impact her uncles had on him.  Reid grew up around the Ngongotaha Rugby Club in Rotorua and was coached by Jim Maniapoto as a young boy.

“They were gentle giants but when they played on the field for Whakarewarewa vs Ngongotaha, those games were robust and bloody,” says Reid.  “They were Māori icons and I looked up to them.”