Wellington College’s Ah Kuoi boys making a mark in multiple sports
You name it and the Ah Kuoi boys will play it.
Brothers Utu and Naitoa Ah Kuoi have played a variety sports with the common denominator being that they usually play them well.
Rugby and AFL have become their sporting priorities but along the way one or other, or both, have tried their hand at volleyball, basketball, water polo, handball, athletics, underwater hockey and swimming.
Both brothers are in the Wellington College first XV, have been selected for national age group teams in water polo and represented New Zealand at AFL over Anzac weekend.
Utu is a young year 13 – he does not turn 17 till this month – but was among four schoolboys selected for the New Zealand Hawks, the senior AFL team.
He also captained the New Zealand academy team which played in Sydney in March and last month was named as the New Zealand under-16 player of the year for the 2014 season.
The senior Hawks played against the AFL academy team from Australia, which pitted them against the best young talent in Australia.
“It was Utu’s debut at that level and the newcomers find the pace pretty fast,” Wellington AFL academy director Sam McKenzie said. “He was competing against the best in his age group but definitely held his own.”
McKenzie, who also plays for the New Zealand Hawks, has coached Ah Kuoi and played with and against him.
“He is one of the hardest ball runners in New Zealand,” McKenzie said. “He’s very quick and strong.
“He’s good at hunting the ball and he’s a tough player. You don’t want to run into him, he’s a fairly hard nut.”
Ah Kuoi also recorded the sort of results that interest Australian AFL scouts when among 35 schoolboys put through a variety of tests at the national AFL combine, in Wellington last month.
He was the fastest in the group over 20 metres, covering the distance in 2.9 seconds.
“In terms of his speed and athleticism, he’s up there,” McKenzie said. “The New Zealand [AFL] players are always up against it [compared to their Australian counterparts] in terms of knowledge but that sort of speed can give you a little bit of space.
“He now needs to play more football, to learn more, and making the New Zealand men’s side will lead to more opportunities.”
Ah Kuoi is versatile in terms of what positions he can cover in AFL but plays mostly in midfield or at halfback.
He demonstrated his versatility again for the Wellington College first XV last weekend, beginning the game against Napier Boys on the wing, as injury cover, before moving back into the loose forwards, where he usually plays.
He has been a comparatively late convert to the forwards, after playing much of his rugby at second five-eighth. “I’ve only had two years in the forwards and I’m still learning.”
He wants to continue playing both AFL and rugby and has no clear preference. “They are different sports and I would love to have the opportunity to go further in either one. They have different skills but playing one helps the other.
“My size – 1.85m tall and 88kg – probably suits AFL a little bit more than rugby but I still want to give rugby a crack.
“AFL obviously isn’t a major sport in New Zealand but it’s getting bigger and I will take any chance to represent my country.”
Ah Kuoi, who also won the senior javelin at the regional schools track and field championships, is likely to head to Otago University next year, with the aim of become a physiotherapist.
Naitoa Ah Kuoi is bigger – 1.92m tall and 94kg – than his brother and though only a year 11, the 15-year-old is already in his second season in the school first XV.
Few year 10 players make the Wellington College squad, much less earn a spot as a starting lock.
“There weren’t many year 12 and 13 locks last year but he [Ah Kuoi] did exceptionally well for a year 10 to break into the squad and then become a key ball winner,” first XV coach Lincoln Rawles said. “He’s a year 11 now and the senior lock.”
Ah Kuoi has had to put his water polo career on hold, due to his rugby and AFL commitments but plans to keep playing volleyball and handball while he can, largely for enjoyment.
He would look at any opportunities that arose with AFL but his dream is to play professional rugby.
“I wasn’t expecting to make the first XV last year. It was quite surreal.
“At first I found it quite tough [at first XV level] but towards the end of the season I was feeling quite comfortable.”
He was a member of the Wellington under-16 team last year and selected for the Hurricanes under-17 training camp and is eligible for both squads again this year.
He captained the New Zealand under-16 AFL side at Anzac weekend and was named the New Zealand player of the series after two games against the Peninsula Saints, from Victoria.
“It was the best I’ve seen him play,” McKenzie said. “His play and his leadership has really developed.
“His work rate has started to improve and that’s a big thing for a player of his size. He was winning about 90 per cent of the hit-outs as a ruckman and that was exciting to see.”