Kava ritual has become part of Kiwis culture

CHRIS BARCLAY IN TOWNSVILLE
Last updated 05:00 13/10/2012

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The Kangaroos have used Fijian wingers Lote Tuqiri and Akuila Uate in previous line-ups but if the Kiwis win in Townsville tonight Noa Nadruku can bask in the afterglow on one of his old home grounds.

The 45-year-old long-retired Canberra and North Queensland representative is inadvertently responsible for a focal point of the Kiwis pre-test preparations, thanks to his contribution to the Raiders' grand final-winning celebrations in the Australian capital back in 1994.

It was Nadruku who introduced Ruben Wiki to the medicinal qualities of kava - the root-based, mildly hallucinogenic drink popular throughout the Pacific Islands.

"After we beat the Bulldogs, during the second day of partying, Noa rung the Fijian embassy and said 'Can you bring a bowl to this pub in Queanbeyan?' Wiki recalled as the Kiwis prepared for their season-ending clash at Dairy Farmers Stadium.

"The limo's turned up and there's a kava bowl and kava and we started mixing. I've been hooked since then."

Well not quite. It was an acquired taste for the 55-test Kiwi - New Zealand rugby league's most capped player.

"It took a while. Because of my Samoan background and the whole ceremonial thing I did some research on it. I started taking it more seriously in my late-20s in Canberra; it was my recovery after a game."

Wiki started his career as a centre, converted to the second row and then shifted to prop, where he ended his illustrious career at the New Zealand Warriors in 2008.

The test component of his sterling service to the code ended with an agonising loss to the Kangaroos in the final of the 2006 Tri-Nations final in Sydney, though his influence on the national team remains as an assistant trainer and unofficial cultural ambassador.

These roles mean he turned up in Cairns last weekend with two kilograms of kava: "It's a short week" he explains.

On the 2005 Tri-Nations tour of England Wiki convinced the medical staff to lug 10kg of the powder north and claims it was a cornerstone of a successful tournament which culminated in a stunning 24-0 victory over the Kangaroos at Elland Road.

"I was trying to set up a new culture and it (kava) got us over the line in '05," the supremely fit 39-year-old told Fairfax Media.

"The boys sacrificed going out and just drank kava although we had a big party after that game. I didn't stop the boys having a beer (during the tour) but nothing silly."

Wiki was the captain and successfully modified a culture of train hard, play harder, drink hardest.

"I thought I'd try something different."

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His teammates weren't all receptive but the tradition lives on: debutants Sam Kasiano and Dean Whare were the latest inductees to the Kiwis kava club Far North Queensland.

"As soon as we come into camp we have a kava session for team bonding," said Wiki, noting it was not compulsory.

Wing Sam Perrett was exempt as a Mormon while Simon Mannering has sipped slowly through the ordeal in the past and now rarely imbibes.

Wiki admits it's not the world's most attractive drink but insisted kava's benefits outweighed its reputation as muddy dishwater.

"It helps with bumps and bruises, hydration and relaxation, especially after a long trip" and a conduit for social interaction. It's also all about camaraderie, getting together, listening to music and having a chat.

"They're always curious, they want to have a taste and see what happens ... some of them adapt to it," he said.

Of the relative newcomers fullback Josh Hoffman and wing Gerard Beale are enthusiastic consumers while Ben Matulino also has a couple of swigs to ease the pain.

Hoffman embraced kava before his test debut at Eden Park in April and is trying to spread the word among his fellow Brisbane Broncos.

"It helps you relax," he said, "it helps heal any wear and tear your body has."

- Fairfax Media

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