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4 days ago
Reserve grader Willie Talau's shock inclusion at five-eighth in the Kiwis lineup against the Kangaroos on Friday night has drawn comparisons with Olsen Filipaina's callup against Wally Lewis's world champion Australian side in 1985. -------
He's still working on the dump trucks and he remembers trashing King Wally's reputation like the Lang Park, Brisbane, test of 1985 was yesterday.
Indeed memories of the entire three-test series against the Kangaroos remain vivid for Olsen Filipaina.
His only doubt was whether 63 or 43 seconds were left when Australian wing John Ribot scored a late try to snatch the second test 10-6 and give the Kangaroos an unbeatable 2-0 lead at Auckland's Carlaw Park.
The Kangaroos may have eventually taken the series 2-1 but as Filipaina notes the Kiwis "scored more points".
It was also a personal triumph for Filipaina.
His opponent at five-eighth, Queensland cult hero Wally Lewis, was made to look distinctly ordinary by the bin man from Mangere East.
Filipaina, played 29 tests between 1978 and 1986, and remains infamous here for transforming himself from a struggling reserve-grader at Balmain, Eastern Suburbs and North Sydney to the Kiwis version of superman when he donned the black jersey.
The chunky No.6 had played test football before he was lured to Balmain in 1979 but Filipaina's reputation was sullied when player and club soon discovered he wasn't exactly cut out for a fitness regime that amounted to more than a jog around the block.
While his indifferent attitude to training saw him spend a fair slice of his Winfield Cup career among the the second stringers, Kiwis coach Graham Lowe astutely identified Filipaina as the key to blunting Lewis 18 years ago.
The man himself wasn't so sure.
"I wasn't surprised to get picked because Graham knew of my abilities but watching Wally in the club scene, Origin and all that I thought 'Jeez I'm going to get to play against this bloke? I wonder if he's done the right thing."
Incredibly the biggest confidence boost he received came not just from ex-pat Kiwis but also the enemy within - Sydneysiders around Ryde where he still lives and picks up the garbage.
"When they found out I was playing 'The King' it was unbelievable. I'd be walking across the road and they'd be telling me to give it to Wally the wanker. I thought how much do they hate this guy because he's from Queensland? "I've never made so many friends in Sydney in all my life."
Brisbane wasn't as enamoured with Filipaina, particularly when he scooped the man of the match award despite playing on the losing side (20-26) in the series opener at Lang Park.
"I didn't get a very good reception because of what I'd done to him," remembers Filipaina who continued his dominance on home soil.
The Kiwis may have surrendered the series after Ribot's heart breaker but Filipaina still rates the test as his best personal performance.
"Everything turned to gold for me that day, I made him (Lewis) look very, very ordinary. " His team-mates crowning moment came in the dead rubber a week later where the Kiwis, emotionally-charged by a pre-test walk up and down Queen St, kept the world champions scoreless in winning 18-0.
Filipaina returned to Sydney with a man of the series award and was again perplexed to be feted by New South Welshmen upon touching down.
"I got to the airport from Auckland and total strangers were going "good on ya" for giving it to Wally. It was unreal .... " And his secret for temporarily dethroning "The King?" Was it the step, swivel, hip bump, or the head down bulldoze? "All of the above. I was like a kid with an early birthday present. I couldn't believe a bloke that I'd watched and everyone had been the rating as King Wally turned out to be a sort of pauper. I thought 'What's so good about the bloke? "Australian commentators found it hard to comprehend how their legend had been so comprehensively outplayed by a 100kg wheely bin-shaped Polynesian - but the explanation was simple.
"I had nothing to prove and playing for New Zealand always brought out the best in me.
"I was like a bull - you wave a red flag in front of a bull and it goes mental. You wave an Aussie jersey in front of me and I'm going to do the same thing.
"Playing for the Kiwis was like going back to my family. Whenever we got together we just clicked and pulled out all the stops to beat the world champions. " These days Filipaina, 46, still keeps a brief on the game at all levels. His youngest boy, 11-year-old Quin, plays for the North Ryde Hawks.
"I'm teaching him to do the bump," Filipaina said of the running technique he perfected for breaking tackles.
The arrival of the Auckland and then New Zealand Warriors also maintain his interest and an Anzac test still gets the blood pumping.
Asked to play selector, Filipaina is confident Talau will make the jump from the Bulldogs' reserve grade team and handle Shaun Timmins at Aussie Stadium on Friday night.
"I think Willie will go well but I'd have put Ruben Wiki there.
"He's a bigger version of me, he's strong, he beats one-on-one straight off and he can unload. " Filipaina, who plans to settle back in Auckland when Quin has grown up, is confident the Kiwis can score their first win in Australia since Melbourne 1991.
"They've just finished the Origin series and they're ready to be done," he said of the Kangaroos.
"There couldn't be a better time to get them than Friday night.
Regrettably Filipaina's timing could not have been worse. He is due to fly out before kick-off to attend Mangere Easts' 40th anniversary celebrations next weekend.
"I'm just about try and change the plane to Saturday."