Queen's Birthday Honours: League icon Graham Lowe knighted for community service

Newly knighted rugby league icon Graham Lowe - bald as a baby's backside - was visiting the hairdresser of all places, when he got the call from the Prime Minister's office.

"I don't have to stay there very long," he grins, running a hand over his shiny dome. "But I got this call, and the fellow told me who he was and what he was calling about.

"I was absolutely stunned, and he asked whether or not I would accept this great honour. I said 'yes', I think, 100 times, in case he misheard me.

"It was so exciting and I was shaking. I've been stunned for words a few times in my life, but that was certainly one of them."

Lowe, 72, headlines NZ sporting identities in the 2019 Queen's Birthday Honours - but becoming a Knight Companion of the NZ Order of Merit isn't reward for his contributions to league.

He has obviously enjoyed a long and distinguished career in the game, coaching the Kiwis to victory over the all-conquering Kangaroos, guiding Manly and Wigan to success in Australian and English professional ranks, and steering Queensland home over NSW at State of Origin.

He previously received a Queen's Service Medal in 1986 New Year Honours and became an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2013 New Year Honours, but all his titles - including this latest - have recognised his community service.

"The emotion just hit me," Lowe remembers about that phone call. "I had people around me and I was trying not to break down - no-one knew what it was about.

"I had not the slightest idea, but it's just a beautiful thing to experience… the emotion and the pride and the friends you think about, who believed in you and supported you.

"I didn't want the moment to end. It's like sitting at Wembley or State of Origin or a Grand Final - when the hooter goes, it's gone, just like that."

Lowe has adapted the same approach that made him such a successful coach and communicator to inspire NZ youth through his Lowie Foundation and his '12 Principles of Success', which he teaches principally through prisons and schools.

"When we first started off, it reminded me of when I first started coaching," he explains. "I thought I'd have to start teaching the players, but I quickly realised they were teaching me.

"A lady from one of the prisons rang me and said they had 11 people in their class that were high-security type people, but three of them had already been re-evaluated down to low security as a result of the course.

"That's massive. All we're trying to do is plant some things in their mind that they can carry through for the rest of their lives."

Those principles include catchcries like 'practice until the lights go out', 'never die wondering' and 'discover the power of your team early'.

"The ultimate result is to make sure they don't go back [to prison]," says Lowe. "At least half of the guys, particularly the younger guys, haven't had the chance of any education.

"They've got no semblance of what we would call 'love', but they're in Team Lowie now. There's a compliance level, they all live to it and I'm proud of what we're achieving."

Other sports stars receiving Queen's Birthday Honours include a posthumous damehood for former Olympic long jump champion Yvette Corlett, former Silver Ferns netball coach Yvonne Willering and five-time Indycars champion Scott Dixon become Companions of the NZ Order of Merit, boxing great David Tua is now an Officer of the NZ Order of Merit, while Black Ferns rugby captain Sarah Hirini is a Member of the NZ Order of Merit.

NZ sporting recipients in 2019 Queen's Birthday Honours are:

Knight Companion of NZ Order of Merit
Graham Lowe for services to youth and education

Dame Companion of NZ Order of Merit
Yvette Corlett for services to athletics

Companion of the NZ Order of Merit
Yvonne Willering for services to netball
Scott Dixon for services to motorsport

Officer of the NZ Order of Merit
David Tua for services to youth, boxing and the community

Member of the NZ Order of Merit
Sarah Hirini for services to rugby
Yvonne Loader for services to the sport of gliding
Ewen Robert Piri for services to clay target shooting
Naomi Shaw for services to softball
Bryan Waddle for services to sports broadcasting

Queen's Service Medal
Adrienne Begg for services to sport and the community
Maree Bernasconi for services to netball
Peter Cox for services to sport, particularly hockey
Edward Fawcett for services to the sport of woodchopping
Russell Hoggard for services to athletics
Lynette Pellow for services to netball
Ann-Marie Searle for services to badminton and the community
Margaret Swinburn for services to athletics
Elizabeth Thomas for services to equestrian sports and the community
Allan Va'a for services to youth and sport
Grant Windsor for services to broadcasting and sport