Ah Kuoi rises again in Phoenix

Sunday Star Times, Steve Kilgallon

Fred Ah Kuoi awakes at 4.30am and says his first prayer of the day. He assembles a clutch of ex-cons and reformed addicts, and takes them to the gym for an hour, then to the clasroom for some Bible study.

A dashing standoff who won 25 caps for New Zealand and was unbeaten in his five outings as Kiwis skipper, Ah Kuoi says he was 'saved' in 1994 - and since 1999 he has lived in Phoenix, Arizona working as a church minister.

Rugby League, by necessity. has been a long way from Ah Kuoi's live since then, but only his second visit back to New Zealand in seven years conincided with last night's Masters game at Mount Smart (July 15th 2006).

Within 24 hours of returning to Auckland to see family, friends, and church colleagues, Ah Kuoi had a call from former Kiwis team mate James Leuluai to see if he had his boots.

Leuluai, Ah Kuoi and the two other members of Hull's great Kiwi quartet of the early 80s - Gary Kemble, and Dane O'Hara - go to England in October for an already sold out reunion of their 1985 Challenge Cup final team, All four are named in the English club's 100greateds-ever players and will receive heroes' welcomes.

Ah Kuoi was the last of that team the organisers tracked down, "It was an amazing team," he says wistfully. "It's a shame when I think about it = they still reckon it was the best-ever final they had at Wembley. It was 28-24 [to Wigan' and we had three shots at goal, all kickable, and all missed"

Ah Kuoi was in America for a Christian athletes sprots conference in 1999 when his Damascene expericence came, and he never returned. "You get to that stage in your life when you think 'there has to be more, what else is there?" I found my purpose," he says. " You can get stuck i the game and everthing else, but there is a far greater game spiritually to look at - where to next?"

So he began ministering at the 15,000-strong First Assembly church of Phoenix. "We go out, help guys coming out of prison or out of addictions and take them for six months, feed them give them a bed - and part of the programme is that they do physical training," he says. "Our church brings in people who other people probably don't want in their curches. We have rich and poor."

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