Gene Ngamu – Warrior #6
Manly (1992-93): 9 games – 1 try (4 points)
South Sydney (1994): 1 game – 0 points
Warriors (1995-99): 81 games – 11 tries, 118 goals, 3 field goals (283 points)
PREMIERSHIP TOTAL: 91 games – 12 tries, 118 goals, 3 field goals (287 points)
New Zealand (1993-99): 23 Tests – 11 tries, 6 goals (56 points)
NZ Super League Tri-Series (1997): 2 matches – 5 goals, 1 field goal (11 points)
New Zealand Maori (2000): 2 Tests – 3 goals, 1 field (7 points)
A brilliant but inconsistent playmaker, Gene Ngamu was a oft-maligned figure during the Auckland Warriors’ erratic formative seasons but he was nevertheless a mainstay in the club’s line-up from its 1995 debut until his departure midway through 1999 and produced more than his share of highlights.
The Marist Saints and Northcote Tigers junior missed just three first-grade matches in the Warriors’ first three seasons and played 23 of a possible 33 Tests for New Zealand after winning a maiden call-up in 1993.
“Playing for the Warriors was a dream come true,” Ngamu told NRL.com in 2011.
“There were rumours going around that they were going to be included in the competition – even when I got over to Manly and played there for a while. I was hoping they would come in and when they did I pretty much signed straight away.
“I desperately wanted to go home and be part of it. I wanted to be part of that first team that was part of the [premiership]… the bonus was playing top-line footy and being at home at the same time.”
The quicksilver five-eighth’s prodigious talent was originally recognised by Manly coach and Kiwi compatriot Graham Lowe in 1992. The Junior Kiwis rep played nine matches in two seasons for the Sea Eagles, before touring with the New Zealand side to Great Britain and France at the end of ’93 at the tender age of 19.
Ngamu played seven matches on tour but was dropped from the Test team after the 17-0 defeat to Great Britain in the first Test at Wembley. He was sacked by Manly when the club learned he had signed for the Warriors’ inaugural season, spending the interim 1994 campaign with Souths.
A shoulder injury suffered on the Kiwis tour restricted Ngamu to just one top-grade match for the Rabbitohs, but he toured Papua New Guinea at the end of the year and scored three tries in the two-Test series.
Ngamu got the nod as the Warriors’ No.6 for their premiership debut and was the fledgling club’s first-choice goalkicker, slotting three goals in the epic 25-22 loss to Brisbane in the opening round of 1995.
“I didn’t get to play finals footy when I was at the Warriors but that first game was a similar sort of build-up. Everyone was behind us. It was an amazing experience and we got so close,” Ngamu recalled.
“It was a great experience but unfortunately after that first year we probably didn’t go quite as well as we should have.”
23 years ago today, the mighty @NZWarriors recorded their maiden victory, thumping the Wests Magpies 46-12 at Mt Smart Stadium
— NRL Stats (@NRLstats) March 26, 2018
The 21-year-old subsequently scored two tries in the first Test win over France and played five-eighth in all three mid-season Tests against Australia. The emergence of Stacey Jones and the presence of ex-Penrith champion Greg Alexander saw Ngamu finish the domestic season at fullback but he was the Warriors’ top pointscorer with 84 and was chosen in the Kiwis’ World Cup squad.
A game-breaker with genuine speed, some of the best footwork in the code and great attacking instincts, Ngamu eventually settled as Jones’ halves partner in 1996 and set a club record of 28 points (three tries, eight goals) in a 52-6 drubbing of the Cowboys.
Less auspicious was his after-the-siren conversion miss from handy position two weeks later that cost Auckland a premiership point in a 20-18 loss to Canterbury.
After finishing the year with 120 premiership points, Ngamu was superb in New Zealand’s home Test campaign at the end of the year, scoring a total of five tries in the 2-0 series defeat of the Kumuls and the 3-0 whitewash of the Lions.
Ngamu relinquished the goalkicking duties to Matthew Ridge for the 1997 Super League season but missed only one premiership game for the third successive year and was superb for the Warriors during the ill-fated World Club Challenge competition. He scored 28 points from a try and 12 goals against Bradford and crossed for a hat-trick as Auckland decimated St Helens.
On the representative scene, Ngamu was at pivot for the inaugural Anzac Test, the 30-12 post-season upset of Super League Australia, and New Zealand’s two Super League Tri-Series fixtures.
Save for the odd highlight, the 1998 NRL was disappointing for club and player, and although he played in both end-of-season Tests against Australia, Ngamu left the Warriors mid-season in 1999 – with the likes of Cliff Beverley and Shane Endacott preferred at five-eighth – to link up with English club Huddersfield.
Ngamu played his last Tests for the Kiwis in the 1999 Tri-Nations tournament, coming off the bench in the win over Great Britain and the narrow final loss to Australia. His top-flight career came to an end in 2000 after a Super League season for Huddersfield-Sheffield in which he compiled 160 points, while his representative swansong consisted of matches against Scotland and Ireland for NZ Maori at the 2000 World Cup.
He remains eighth on the Warriors’ all-time pointscoring list, while only James Maloney (63) has worn the club’s No.6 jumper more than Ngamu’s 62 appearances. Kiwis legends George Menzies and Benji Marshall are the only players to grace the Test arena for New Zealand at five-eighth more times than Ngamu.
An underrated contributor during a tumultuous period, a genuine 1990s Warriors icon and still a favourite of rusted-on supporters.
Who's got the best step? Shaun Johnson? Tuivasa Scheck? Benji? Orene?
I reckon Gene Ngamu! 😂😂😂😂😂😂
— Lui 卡爾 Leavai (@luidotleavai) August 26, 2013
Who cares about Eden Park. The real #NRL9s party is at College Lawn. You'll see me there with my Bring Back Gene Ngamu banner
— Henry Wong (@HenryWongNZ) February 16, 2014