1. Billy Bush – William Kingita Te Pohe to give the Napier and Canterbury prop his full name. Wild looking, heavily bearded piratical figure and no stranger to be a bit of bosh but a wonderfully passionate rugby player and very skilful for his era. Would have had no problem adapting to the modern professional game.
2. Hika Reid – Phenomenal competition for places, the Maori temperment seems to breed great hookers. There’s modern great Dane Cole, the fiery Norm Hewett or another tough customer in Tane Norton but I’m going for the archetypal Maori number 2 ‘Hika the hooker from Ngongotaha’ to quote the great Mclaren.
3. Carl Hayman (above) – Giant prop from Opunake on the North Island who made his name with Otago and the Highlanders and won 45 All Black caps before travelling to Europe to play first for Newcastle Falcons and then Toulon where he won three European Cup titles. Played a starring role in the Maori win over the 2005 Lions at Hamilton.
4. Stan ‘Tiny’ Hill – Taranaki man from New Plymouth and nicknamed Tiny because he wasn’t. Hill was a career soldier and only really turned his full attention to rugby when he returned from Japan with the J force in 1949. Rugged, uncompromising forward was seen at his best when playing all four Tests against the 1959 Lions.
5. Robin Brooke – Younger brother of Zinzan and Marty who was also a highly rated forward. Robin Brooke was a rugged no-nonsense lock who won 62 caps for New Zealand between 1992 and 1999. Received the Tom French Maori player of the year in 1995, the year after Zinzan won the award for a second time.
6. Zinzan Brooke –
Extravagant all-round talent in the back row who epitomised the best attacking qualities of Maori rugby players. From the Maori stronghold of Waiuku to the southwest of Auckland, Brook went on to play for the Blues and made 58 Test match appearances for the All Blacks. Among many things he kicked three dropped goals in Test matches.
7. Waka Nathan – Born and bred in Auckland, Nathan was the most mobile and versatile of opensides who is compared, by those who saw both, with Michael Jones. Made his name playing with the Maori and twice winner of the Tom French Maori player of the year award, in 1962 and 1966.
8. Wayne Shelford – Epitomises the Maori forward more than any other from his ferocious hakas, brutal uncompromising approach to the forward exchanges and love of high tempo passionate rugby. Played in the 1987 World Cup final and was unbeaten in 17 matches as All Blacks captain between 1987 and 1990.
9. Sid Going – Maori legend who won the Tom French trophy six times on the trot between 1967 and 1972. Low slung and with the build and combative qualities of a boxer plus an extravagant skillset when in a more jovial mood. Brothers Ken and Brian also played with him in the Maori back line. From Kawakawa up in Northland.
10. Carlos Spencer – Ridiculously talented, but also fallible, attack minded fly-half who could unpick defences with his footwork and sleight of hand while in his youth he could also hit the burners and run in from distance himself. 35 All Black caps although I’m not sure New Zealand were never quite on his wavelength.
11. Eric Rush – Ok, bit of random selection, although Rush did play wing and wing forward in his senior career and showed himself to be a gas merchant during his long stint as New Zealand’s Sevens captain. A great Maori spokesman on and off the field who passed on the tradition to the next generation by deed and words.
12. Joe Warbrick – We must find room for the captain and guiding light of the incredible 107-match New Zealand Native tour of 1888-89 which put Maori Rugby and indeed Maori culture on the map. Brilliant all-round back and All Black number 17 playing on their first ever tour of Australia in 1884. Killed in the Waimanga geyser tragedy of 1903.
13. Christian Cullen
It was always thought the incredible Cullen was of German/Tongan and Irish extraction but the Maori lineage commission poured over the midnight oil and ruled that Cullen could legitimately claim he was 1/64th Maori. That was enough. Who wouldn’t want Cullen weaving his magic in their team?
14. Rico Gear – Not only a Maori by birth but studied Maori culture at Massey University. At his peak – around the time of the 2005 Lions tour – was a devastating finisher with electric pace and predatory instincts. Eleven tries in 19 All Black Tests and many more for the Maori.
15. George Nepia – Hailed from Wairoa, Nepia was one of the great full-backs in NZ history, starring against the 1930 Lions although racism had prevented him touring South Africa in 1928. In 1950 at the age of 45 he played for the East Coast against his son, also George, who represented Poverty Bay. There is no other instance of this happening in senior rugby.