New Zealand Rugby League Hero Olsen Filipaina Has Died
One of the greats of rugby and a national hero of New Zealand, Olsen Filipaina, has unfortunately passed away at the age of 64.
Reports of his untimely passing have been confirmed by his brother Alf Filipaina, who commented on Facebook at how his brother was a fighter and battled in the Intensive Care Unit for 16 days but that ultimately Olsen was needed for the Rugby League team in heaven.
Olsen Filipaina was previously admitted to the hospital back on the 13th of January with an infection in his stomach and sadly over the days he spent in the hospital, his condition deteriorated due to a long-standing issue he has with his kidneys.
History of the Galloping Garbo
Filipaina was born in New Zealand in 1957 to a Samoan father and a Maori mother and it was quickly apparent he had a real passion for playing rugby and the Rugby League. Starting out at the hawks, he managed to win the Rothville trophy.
The next step of his lustrous career in the game by crossing the Tasman and playing in the Australian National Rugby League for the Balmain Tigers. There’s a famous story of Filipaina from his first training day. The training was so hard he was on the verge of getting the first flight back to New Zealand! But his mother convinced him otherwise.
He played for Balmain all throughout the 1980s. In the five seasons that he played for the club, he got a whopping 225 points and played in 83 games for Balmain.
Other clubs Filipaina played for include a short year-long spell at Eastern Suburbs Roosters and then two years at the North Sydney Bears. Finally, he also played for Ryde-Eastwood in 1990, helping to captain them to win the Metropolitan Cup.
In terms of playing on a national level, Filipaina‘s career really shined. He was part of the legendary Auckland team that defeated France, Australia and Great Britain all within 20 days in 1977.
It was that year that Filipaina was selected for the national rugby team for New Zealand and in both 1983 and 1985 Filipaina played huge roles in the Kiwi team winning their biggest rivals – Australia – even picking up ‘man of the season’ for his efforts on the pitch in 1985.
The then manager for the national team – Graham Lowe – formed a tight bond with Olsen, seeing the raw potential in him. Instead of doing what other Aussie coaches would do and barking commands at his players at a fast pace, Lowe would take his time, understand the players and build their trust.
It was this tactic that helped Filipaina bond with Lowe and together they formed an incredibly formidable team. Lowe even built up a great relationship with Filipainas’ mother, Sissie.
After making plenty of appearances for the team – including a few Rugby World Cups – He retired in 1986 for the National team. He had amassed 108 points over his 50 games for New Zealand which managed to land him sixth on overall scorers.
After playing for New Zealand, Filipaina decided to play for his fathers country of Origin, Western Samoa. This led to him captaining the team for a few games – including in the pacific cup in 1988.
After his retirement, Filipaina stayed in Sydney, living in the nice suburb of Ryde. he kept his work as a garbage man. He managed to land this job when he was playing for the Balmain Tigers. It was thanks to this profession that he earned the nickname ‘the galloping garbo’ which became synonymous with him and his quick pace.
Filipaina was inducted into the ‘Legends of League’ in 2007. This was a prestigious position that is reserved for the Rugby legends of New Zealand. He also published a biography in April of 2020.
Remembering the pathfinder
Overall, Olsen Filipaina is seen as a pathfinder for Polynesians in the sport of rugby. When he paved the way for current players over 30 years ago, who knew the astonishing legacy he would leave behind.
Many see Olsen Filipaina as a trailblazer for the Polynesian movement in Australia. Whilst the number of Polynesian players when Filipaina moved to Australia was scarce, Polynesians now account for over 30% of the players in the National Rugby League.
There’s no doubt that he had an impact.
Olsen leaves behind his 5 children – John, Louise, Quin, Jazmine and Alysha, as well as 5 grandchildren – Matahi, Octavia, Kaimana, Ignatius and Tamati. He also leaves behind 2 brothers.