League great Olsen Filipaina dies aged 64

Olsen Filipaina poses for a promotional photoshoot for his biography 'The Big O' in 2020. Photo:...
Olsen Filipaina poses for a promotional photoshoot for his biography 'The Big O' in 2020. Photo: Getty
New Zealand rugby league great Olsen Filipaina has died in Australia after a severe bout of kidney failure.

Filipaina, one of the NRL's top performers in the 1980s and regarded as one of the greatest Kiwis players of all time, was admitted to Westmead Hospital in New South Wales on January 13 for a stomach infection, according to his brother and Auckland councillor Alf Filipaina.

However, once treatment began, his kidneys began to fail, exacerbating a problem Filipaina had suffered from for many years.

He was transferred to Westmead Hospital, where he was seen by the kidney specialists, and admitted to an intensive care unit.

However, after fighting for 16 days, Filipaina died this afternoon. He was 64.

"It is with a heavy heart, that I inform you that Olsen passed away peacefully in hospital this afternoon," Alf Filipaina wrote on Facebook. "He was a fighter and fought for 16 days in ICU but our heavenly father needed a stand-off for his Rugby League Team, and now he has the best.

"His family spoke to him every day to keep his spirits up and is now reunited with mum, dad, younger brother Rae, and all our tupuna who are now looking after him with all their love.

"We would like to thank the doctors, nurses and staff at Westmead hospital for their tireless efforts to keep Olsen alive.

"To you all, our whanau/aiga wish to thank you, for all your love and prayers during what has been a very emotional time, and please know that your comments and calls have been comforting to us."

Filipaina played seven seasons of NRL between 1980 and 1987 for the Balmain Tigers, Eastern Suburbs Roosters and North Sydney Bears while also representing New Zealand and Western Samoa.

In 1985, Filipaina was the dominant figure in one of the most memorable transtasman series of all time in which he was handed the unenviable task of marking Kangaroos great Wally Lewis.

He scored a try, set up another with a bomb to Hugh McGahan and kicked four goals in a 20-26 loss in the first test at Brisbane, and again dominated Lewis in the second test in which the Kiwis were again denied by a late John Ribot try, losing 10-6.

In the third test at Carlaw Park the Kiwis finally had their revenge with an 18-0 victory. A reluctant goal-kicker, Filipaina didn't miss a kick in the series until late in the third test.

"Perhaps the greatest compliment paid to Filipaina was to be that he was completely ignored by Lewis in two biographies written about his career," wrote league historian John Coffey.

"Clearly Lewis did not want to be reminded of how he fared against a player who that season spent much of his time in the Eastern Suburbs reserve grade."

Filipaina scored 108 points from six tries and 44 goals in 26 tests for the Kiwis, playing 50 games in all.

He was also name-checked by David Tua on Wheel of Fortune, with Tua asking for an "O for Olsen" - a line most Kiwis heard as "O for awesome".

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