In the fourth part of our 'Where are they now' series looking at former Cowboys greats, we speak to Paul Rauhihi about his early years, his time in the Navy, and his glittering first-grade career.
Rauhihi, 47, spent time with the Melbourne Storm, Newcastle Knights, and Canterbury Bulldogs, before joining the Cowboys in 2003 and helping guide the club to its first Grand Final appearance in 2005.
The St George Dragons (NZ) junior played 226 first-grade games over an 11-year NRL and Super League career and represented New Zealand on 17 occasions.
Rauhihi was named the Dally M Prop of the Year in 2004 and won the Paul Bowman Medal in his first year as a Cowboy in 2003.
1. You played your junior football in Wellington in New Zealand. How old were you when you first started playing and what got you interested in rugby league?
I first started playing rugby when I was maybe 10 or 11 with my best mate Riki Kumeroa at the time. After a year we both made the switch to playing club rugby league for the St George Dragons club while still playing rugby union for the school. It was pretty common back then to play both codes.
2. You joined the New Zealand Navy and worked as a radio fitter. When did you join the Navy, and what did you get out of it?
I joined the Royal New Zealand Navy in 1991 while I was still 17 years old. Like most kids from Porirua in the 80s/90s, I needed the discipline that the Navy provided me. I probably learned a lot about leadership and independence in my time there.
3. You signed with the Newcastle Knights in 1999 and went on to make your NRL debut later that year. How did that deal come about and how did you find out you’d be making your debut?
I actually went to the Storm for the first part of 1999 but they had a powerhouse team of internationals so was always going to struggle to get game time there. Midway through the year Paul 'The Chief' Harragon retired and I was picked up by the Knights. Warren Ryan gave me my first-grade debut a week later against Wests just a week before my 26th birthday.
4. After two years with Newcastle and another two with the Bulldogs, you signed with the Cowboys in 2003. What made you make the move up to North Queensland?
The Bulldogs had the whole salary cap scandal the last year I was there so there wasn't much chance of re-signing there. An opportunity came about with the Cowboys where it gave me more of a chance at starting and being more of a leadership type player, so I took it.
5. In your three years with the club, you won a Paul Bowman Medal, captained the side, and helped the team to their first grand final appearance. How do you look back at your time with the Cowboys?
Our family had the best time living in North Queensland. The team, staff, and community were so welcoming to all of us. We still have great friends living there and my son even moved back there and has started a family of his own with his fiancé Holly.
6. Looking back at your 11-year career, which moments stand out for you?
Obviously playing in the 2005 Grand Final, playing for the Kiwis, and also getting to captain them for one game. But best of all was being able to earn the respect of other players and coaches who I looked to.
7. You retired at the end of the 2009 season. What have you been up to since then and what are you doing with yourself at the moment?
So after a bit of stuffing about I finally found my way into the building industry as a carpenter. I do a bit of group fitness training, so life is pretty good for me and the family. And we got to see the boys win the 2015 GF which was amazing!!