Ruben Wiki was a young centre in 1994 when he won an NRL Premiership with the Canberra Raiders, the last Canberra side to do so.
The NRL Hall of Famer can't believe it has been 25 years since then, “I was 21 in 1994, now I'm freaking 46, and you kind of pinch yourself, and you look at the jerseys around home and reminisce about what we did back then,” he tells Te Ao Māori News.
Wiki played 224 games for the Green Machine between 1993 and 2004, before returning home to Aotearoa to play for the Warriors. His memories of the 1994 season, in what was known as the New South Wales Rugby League, surround playing with his idol, Mal Meninga who was in his last season of first-grade rugby league.
Another player in the Raiders side 25 years was current Raiders NRL coach Ricky Stuart. Wiki is impressed with what he has seen in the Australian capital this year, "where they are now, Sticky's done something special there and hopefully they can do it one more time," WIki said.
Wiki was one of a handful of Māori players in the Raiders squad in 1994, including the "bruise brothers" in the front row, Johnny Lomax and Quentin Pongia. Lomax missed the 1994 grand final after receiving a suspension during the week for a high shot on North Sydney's Billy Moore in the preliminary final the week before. Pongia however, laid the platform for the green machine to demolish the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs 36-12.
Pongia unfortunately passed away in May this year after a battle with cancer. Wiki remembers Pongia as a mentor, and an "older New Zealand brother" during their time in Canberra. He has been in touch with some of the current crop of New Zealand Raiders players, and has told them winning another for "Q" will be a special way to remember one of their fallen legends, "He [Pongia] holds a special place in our hearts in Canberra and in New Zealand, but this will be massive for his family you know if they could get over the line just one more time for the big man!”
A look back through the Raiders team list from the 1994 grand final reads like a who's who of rugby league, with names like Meninga, Stuart, Pongia and Lomax joined by Laurie Daley, Steve Walters, Bradley Clyde. Despite a long time between drinks, and a return home to New Zealand, and his childhood neighbourhood of Otara where he runs a gym 'WikiWorx', he retains a strong connection with many of his old teammates. “It’s funny Brett Mullins rang me up on Saturday, six in the morning still on the juice, he said Muss, we going over? I said yeah we're going over, mate!”
It's a bond, he says, that was strengthened by the fact Canberra is a 'one-team town', and hopes the 2019 side can repeat the same on Sunday night. He admits though it won't be easy against the defending champion Sydney Roosters, but believes a fair share of the ball should be enough to counter the Roosters strike weapons, such as James Tedesco and Cooper Cronk, "I know Sticky's team are unpredictable, you don't know what's going to come, so hopefully they can control that and get the result".
The NRL Grand Final takes place on Sunday night at ANZ Stadium, in Sydney.