Howie Tamati: From league's biggest brawl to tackling politics

A vicious fight between the Kiwis and Kangaroos 31 years ago is back on the agenda - but it is due to election year politics rather than rugby league.

Māori Party candidate Howie Tamati was playing for the Kiwis when his cousin Kevin Tamati and Kangaroo Greg Dowling repeatedly punched each other in a fight that raged both on and off the field.

The ferocious one-one-one fight is most infamous for the way both men continued to exchange punches on the sideline after being sin-binned, and remains one of the most frequently replayed trans-Tasman sporting incidents.

Howie Tamati's role during the brawl was to hold his Kiwi teammates back from joining in: and he revealed to Newshub this was because he knew that his cousin was winning - and did not want him interrupted.

Kevin Tamati Greg Dowling league fight
The infamous fight between Kiwi Kevin Tamati and Kangaroo Greg Dowling (Supplied)

"Kevin was actually winning. So while all these players were coming up I was saying: 'stay out of it - you don't need to make this any larger.' All the time I was just letting Kevin get stuck into him!"

Howie Tamati said this cunning action meant he was suited for Parliament.

"It shows I can think in the fight," he joked.

Australia went on to win the 1985 test at Brisbane's Lang Park 26-20 and the series 2-1.

Mr Tamati was a hooker who played 24 tests for the Kiwis and went on to coach the national side in 1992-1993.

He is now standing for the Māori Party in the Te Tai Hauāuru seat and insiders give him a good chance of winning because of his high profile as a player, coach, sports administrator and then New Plymouth city councillor.

Howie Tamati Maori Party
Howie Tamati (centre) with Mana's Hone Harawira and Maori Party leaders (Supplied)

The seat is currently held by Labour's Adrian Rurawhe with a 5,000-vote majority but was previously a Māori Party stronghold under former co-leader Tariana Turia.

Mr Tamati said his rugby league career, which started at the Waitara Bears, saved him from a lifetime at the freezing works.

"It changed my life," he said.

He said the sport and politics required a similar temperament, as "a test match searches your character" - a quality he agreed would be required in politics.

"The pressure comes from doing your best to represent your people and wanting to be able to look them in the eye - for them to understand that you've done your best for them."

The Māori Party currently only hold one of the seven Māori seats but Howie Tamati is part of a resurgence aimed at taking them back - which could be crucial to the balance of power in a close election.

Kevin Tamati, who played 22 tests as prop, is now living on the Gold Coast in Australia.