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Wairarapa-Bush rugby legend dies

By Gary Caffell

Greg Karaitiana might never have worn the All Blacks jersey but he still qualifies for the term “legend” in Wairarapa-Bush rugby circles.

Karaitiana, who died suddenly in Masterton on Saturday at the age of 58, was the sort of player who puts bums on seats because of their uncanny ability to create tries out of nothing.

And the flying winger scored plenty of them in that memorable early 1980s period when a Wairarapa-Bush team under Brian (now Sir Brian) Lochore defied their small union status by qualifying to play in the national first division competition.

Gary “Jack” McGlashan says Karaitiana’s attacking flair was almost beyond description.

As captain of the 1981 Wairarapa-Bush side, which on September 26 beat Taranaki 15-6 to win the North Island second division championship, on September 29 beat South Canterbury 16-0 to earn the right to play against the bottom first division side, Southland, in a promotion-relegation match and then on October 3 defeated Southland 10-9 in Invercargill to complete the fairytale, McGlashan was constantly in awe of Karaitiana’s ability to make formidable opponents look second rate.

“He did things other players couldn’t even dream of doing,” McGlashan said. “He had the most amazing sidestep and he did everything at pace. Every time he got the ball into his hands you had the feeling something could happen, and the locals loved him. If he had wanted he could have been an All Black, I’m absolutely sure of that.”

Mike Cornford played alongside Karaitiana for Masterton club and Wairarapa-Bush and he was quick to agree with the sentiments of McGlashan.

“Greg was a natural ball player, he could turn on a sixpence, some very good players were made to look very average by him. When I look back I wonder whether there has been a better player than him who has never been an All Black and, honestly, I can’t think of one.”

Karaitiana’s abilities weren’t lost on those outside of the Wairarapa-Bush union either.

The 1981 New Zealand Rugby Almanack labelled Karaitiana as a “speedy and tricky winger of considerable promise” and the scorer of seven tries, with the one against Taranaki in the North Island final being an absolute cracker. Among those left in his wake as he jinked and jived his way through the opposition defence were All Blacks Graham Mourie and Kieran Crowley.

Greg Karaitiana was far from a “one season wonder” though. As Wairarapa-Bush continued to make waves by more than holding their own at the top level for five seasons Karaitiana was without peer as an attacking force. In 1985, under Lane Penn, he played in all 16 of their matches and his 12 tries were a record for the union. Four of those came in a 53-5 thumping of Hawke’s Bay and two in a 20-19 victory over Wellington. Wairarapa-Bush placed fourth in that season’s first division championship with 11 wins.

Greg Karaitiana, who also excelled at softball, is survived by wife Loma and children Corie, Justin, Jaimee and Leah and his funeral will be in Masterton on Thursday.


  1. Very sorry to hear of the sudden passing of Greg Karaitiana. To Wayne, Gary and the rest of the family my thoughts and prayers are with you.

  2. Kia Ora Loma. And whanau Gary Tania and Whanau my condolences and to all The Karaitiana Whanau.It was a shock to hear about Greg,s passing.Such a sad loss. But also a happy time as he left a Great legacy in his whanau.He will be missed by many.But he also ..bought many of the Whanau from out of the woodworks. Which shows how much AROHA he gave to others.My Bro Nas said it was a big tangi and a beautiful day.Greg was a Great person and had great skills on the rugby field.You will be missed but you will always be remebered and loved by those who knew you the most,”YOUR WHANAU” GOD BLESS AND MUCH AROHA TO YOU ALL.

  3. Was sadden to hear of Gary’s passing , remember him well from primary school days as a talented sportsman , and read with interest his success playing for Wai. Bush in those heady days in the early 80s .
    Condolences to Gary’s family and RIP

  4. Very sorry to hear of the sudden passing of Greg Karaitiana. To Wayne, Gary and the rest of the family my thoughts and prayers are with you.

  5. Sorry for your loss condolences to Loma and family R.i.p Greg karaitiana regards Daph and Rob Ashton and all our family’s xxx

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Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland is Wairarapa’s Local Democracy Reporter, a Public Interest Journalism role funded through NZ On Air. Emily has worked at the Wairarapa Times-Age for seven years and has a keen interest in council decision-making and transparency.

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