Former Kiwi swaps league for speed
Whetu Taewa blitzed the opposition with pace and power throughout his international league career.
Now, 12 years after hanging up his footy boots, Taewa is gassing rivals on the speedway track.
Taewa, 43, was last month named Production Saloon Competitor of the Year at Speedway New Zealand's 2014 awards.
"I had friends who were into it [speedway] so I jumped into a car one day and had a blat and enjoyed it, " Taewa, who began racing four years ago.
"From there, it got bigger and bigger. I was very surprised when I was nominated [for], let alone won that [national] award."
Taewa is a regular competitor on Cromwell's Central Motor Speedway circuit of Greymouth, Dunedin and Invercargill. He is also on the circuit's organising committee. While many of his former league team-mates were surprised at his new sporting direction, Taewa said: "I think everyone is into cars in one way or another."
Taewa has four production saloon race cars numbered 99t.
Production saloons are regarded as an ideal entry to speedway as they cost less than vehicles in other classes and because few modifications are allowed to the former street cars, putting the emphasis on driving skills.
While Taewa is now associated with his race cars, he drove a distinctive vehicle during his footy career in New Zealand.
"I worked for the Mad Butcher for a while and had a [Mitsubishi] Mirage and it had Mad Butcher logos stuck all over it."
Taewa is set to make an impact behind the wheel.
He is preparing a driving mentoring scheme to encourage more responsible behaviour on the roads.
"I have identified where some of the young ones sort of get a little bit enthusiastic in their cars," Taewa said.
"If they learned a bit more about them [cars], and drove as fast as they can in a controlled environment, then they will get rid of that urge to squirt around the streets."
During a league career in which he played six tests for the Kiwis, Taewa was a star of the West Coast and Canterbury provincial teams, and played for the Auckland Warriors and North Queensland Cowboys from 1995-96.
In 1997 he played for UK Super League side the Sheffield Eagles, who won the 1988 Challenge Cup, before joining Hull Kingston Rovers in 1999.
After retiring as a player, he was HKR's assistant coach in 2003, before returning to New Zealand.