From tennis champions to dance craze inventors, Scratched celebrates New Zealand sporting heroes who never got their due – but whose legacies deserve to be in lights. This month, Joeli Vidiri, the greatest All Black that never was.
Most customers at Mitre 10 Mega in Pukekohe don’t realise they’ve just been greeted by one of the most exciting talents in New Zealand’s rugby history. At 1.90m tall and with spades for hands, Joeli Vidiri certainly looks like he could hold his own on a rugby field. But in 1996, he wasn’t just holding his own. He was dominating Super 12 rugby on his way to a Player of the Year title and championship with the Auckland Blues.
At only 22, Vidiri was sought after by both the All Blacks and his birth country of Fiji. Owing to international rules, Vidiri would be unable to play for the All Blacks until 1998 because he had played for Fiji in 1995 and had to wait three years before representing another country.
By 1998, Vidiri was slowing down. He played two tests as an All Black reserve but his explosiveness and speed had greatly dimmed in just two years. He never played for the All Blacks again.
Joeli Vidiri retired from all rugby in 2001 after beginning dialysis to treat kidney disease. He was 27. These days, Vidiri works six days a week at Mitre 10 Mega Pukekohe with two healthy kidneys after a successful transplant in 2015.
Next time you’re looking for a new screwdriver in Pukekohe, keep an eye out. You might find a rugby legend instead.
Scratched: Aotearoa’s Lost Sporting Legends is made with the support of NZ On Air.
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