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Cross-code legend Va'aiga Tuigamala dead at 52

By Ian Cameron
(Photo by Rui Vieira/PA Images via Getty Images)

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The death of rugby league and union great Va’aiga Tuigamala is being reported today at the age of 52.

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Tuigamala represented both New Zealand and Samoan in rugby union as well as the Samoan rugby league team in an international career that spanned 1989 to 2001.

He also enjoyed famous club careers in both codes, representing Wigan in league and Wasps, Newcastle Falcons and Auckland in the fifteen man code.

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His 1997 £1million pound deal to join Newcastle was a record in the sport at the time.

Born in Faleasiu, Samoa, Tuigamala started playing for Ponsonby and Auckland, before winning his first All Blacks cap as a winger in 1989 and playing his first test match, against the US Eagles, in 1991.

He won a total of 19 caps for New Zealand, including playing at the 1991 world Cup, before switching to the thirteen man code.

Known as ‘Inga the Winger’, the destructive ball carrier signed for Wigan in 1993. He won two Challenge Cup winners’ medals, two Regal ‘Trophy winners’, medals and a Premiership winners medal in his three seasons with Wigan and also helped the club beat the Brisbane Broncos in the World Club Challenge.

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He then reverted to rugby union by signing a five-year deal with Newcastle that reputedly cost the Kingston Park club £1million and went on to win league titles with both the Falcons and Wasps.

Tragically, his death comes just three weeks after the passing of his sister.

Former Wigan teammate Jason Robinson posted: “Absolutely heartbroken! I owe so much to this amazing man! Literally helped change my life when he came to Wigan Warriors from NZ. Sending all my love and condolences to the family at such a sad time. RIP brother.”

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Former Wales No.8 Andy Powell wrote: “RIP Inga Tuigamala, what a player and what a great bloke.”

Newcastle Falcons official Twitter account posted: “It is with great sadness that we have learned of the death of Va’aiga (Inga) Tuigamala. A true great of both codes who helped us win the 1997-98 Premiership title, Inga will be fondly remembered for his physicality on the field, and his friendship off it. RIP Inga.”

Wigan Warriors tweeted: “This morning, Wigan Warriors are deeply saddened to learn of the tragic news that former player Va’aiga (Inga) Tuigamala has passed away. Wigan Warriors send their deepest condolences to the family and friends at this awful time.”

BBC broadcaster Tulsen Tollett wrote: “Va’aiga Tuigamala was one of the true forerunners of Pacific Nations Rugby players. A gentle man who cared about others. Someone who would tackle you hard but make sure you were okay before moving on. He helped many, on & off the pitch. My condolences to his friends & family.”

Tuigamala became a funeral director after retiring from rugby, prompted by the death of 10 of his friends in 2003.

He ran a funeral company, Tuigamala & Sons, in West Auckland and organised the funeral of the late king of Tonga, Taufa’ahau Tupou IV.

– additional reporting AAP

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