The New Zealand sportsperson's hall of shame

LIFE CHANGES: Suaia Matagi.
LIFE CHANGES: Suaia Matagi.

Rugby league player Russell Packer, who this week started a two-year jail term in Sydney for assault, pending an appeal, is not the first New Zealand sportsman to find himself behind bars.

As well as heroes, our sporting landscape has a collection of street fighters, fraudsters and drug dealers, all showing the frailty of the argument that sporting stars are good role models for Kiwi kids.

From All Blacks to Black Caps and even marathon runners, here is a look at sportsmen who experienced prison life (or came very close to it). Our search failed to reveal any prominent sportswoman who had been jailed.

HALL OF SHAME: Simon Poelman, former decathlete, was convicted of importing ecstasy.
HALL OF SHAME: Simon Poelman, former decathlete, was convicted of importing ecstasy.


Suaia Matagi, rugby league, assault

Packer's team-mate last year, Matagi served 12 months of a three-year sentence when he was 19 for a vicious assault. Now 25, he had a similar upbringing to Packer, getting in with the wrong crowd early and abusing alcohol and drugs. He turned his life around after his prison stay and started 11 games for the Warriors during his first NRL season in 2013. As of 2012 he was allowed to obtain a visa to enter Australia.

Dave Watson, rugby league, assault

Watson was known as a rugby league bad boy. A great player on the field, he could not stay out of trouble off it. In 1991, he was jailed in England for a second drink-driving charge and a year later was dumped from English club Halifax after testing positive for cannabis. On Christmas Eve 1994, he assaulted a nightclub owner in Bradford, breaking his victim's nose and a few teeth. Watson received a four-month suspended jail term and was fined NZ$5000.

Shaun Metcalf, rugby league, assault with intent to procure an abortion

In 2003, Metcalf was a promising 16-year-old junior Warriors player when his 15-year-old girlfriend fell pregnant. He insisted she have an abortion but she was five months pregnant, so it was too late.

Metcalf and friends lured her to a park, repeatedly kicked her in the stomach, then left her bruised and bleeding. The attempted abortion failed and Metcalf was sentenced to 18 months in jail for attempting to procure an abortion, aggravated robbery and injuring with intent.


Simon Poelman, decathlete, drug importation

Poelman was regarded as one of New Zealand's greatest all-round athletes. His personal best decathlon score of 8366 points set in 1987 is still a national record.

It appears he enjoyed the ecstasy of that performance a little too much, as in 1998 he was jailed for 5 years for importing almost 2000 ecstasy pills hidden in a fluffy toy rabbit. At the time it was the second-largest seizure of the drug in New Zealand history.

Phil Bancroft, rugby league, drug dealing

Bancroft was around at the same time as Watson, during the dark days of New Zealand rugby league when several players were suspended for drug use. Drugs were also a part of Bancroft's life as he was jailed for three years in 1996 for drug dealing.

Konrad Ross, basketball, drug taking

Described as "one of the most physically gifted athletes ever to play for New Zealand" by former Tall Blacks skipper Glen Denham, Ross' life was derailed by an addiction to P. While living in America in 2006 he was arrested with hunting rifles and a P pipe in his car.

That, along with another firearms charge, meant he spent seven years in a high-security facility in California.


Brent Todd, rugby league, fraud

Todd reached celebrity status in the 1990s after marrying Australian surfing beauty Wendy Botha and starring on reality TV, including Celebrity Treasure Island. But it all went downhill for him in the "noughties". He split from Botha in 2005, was convicted of procuring cocaine in 2006 and a year later pleaded guilty to fraud. His charges related to hundreds of thousands of dollars of gaming machine money intended for amateur rugby that went missing from 2000 to late 2004. He received a one-year home detention sentence, escaping jail time only because he agreed to give evidence against his co-accused.

Jeff Julian, Olympic marathon runner, fraud

Julian was a double Olympian who at one time held three world records. He achieved his greatest fame in 1963 when he won a pre-Olympic marathon in Japan, the following year returning for the Tokyo Olympics as a hero but managing only 29th. By 1996 he had fallen on tough times after being sacked from his banking job after 38 years, and struggling with a failing business. In 1999 he was caught defrauding credit card companies American Express and Diners Club of more than $2 million. The then 64-year-old pleaded guilty to fraud charges and was sentenced to two years in prison.

Keith Hancox, distance swimmer and sports administrator, fraud

Hancox was the first New Zealander to swim the English Channel but was mainly remembered for his role as the Sports Foundation's executive director.

Unfortunately, he was helping himself more than helping rising sports stars, stealing more than $1m from the foundation.

In 1992, he was sentenced to four years in prison.

Kevin Herlihy, softball, fraud

Possibly the greatest pitcher to ever play the game, Herlihy had turned to coaching by 1996, when he helped guide New Zealand to that year's world championship title in the United States. When he returned home three weeks later he lost his job, admitted 26 fraud charges and was jailed for two years. His crimes involved stealing about $145,000 from his clients for whom he worked as an insurance broker to feed a $100-a-day addiction to gambling.

Steve Pokere, rugby, fraud

During his playing days the All Black was remembered as much for his Mormon beliefs as his silky rugby skills. After his rugby career ended, he preyed on fellow churchgoers, taking $4m from them which he said he would invest. Just $900,000 was actually invested and in 2005 Pokere was sentenced to 2 years in jail.

Bruce Taylor, cricket, fraud

Taylor held the record for New Zealand's fastest test century for 36 years, until Daniel Vettori broke it in 2005. He also played fast and loose with money when he worked for Dunedin's John McGlashan College as a bursar.

He spent 12 months in jail in 1993-94 after pleading guilty to 22 fraud charges involving the theft of more than $368,000 from the school. 

Fairfax Media