Va'aiga Tuigamala: life and career of Wigan Warriors rugby great Inga, dead at 52 - and Jason Robinson tribute

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Former New Zealand winger was one of the best dual-code Rugby Players in the world. He played for both the All Blacks and Samoa

The former Wigan Warriors and New Zealand Rugby player, Va’aiga Tuigamala, has died at the age of 52.

Tuigamala, known as ‘Inga the Winger’, was (as the nickname suggests) a winger and centre and played for the All Blacks at the 1991 Rugby Union World Cup before switching allegiances to represent his native Samoa in the 1995 Rugby League and 1999 Union World Cups.

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The news of his death comes only a few weeks after his younger sister, the pastor Helen Verry, died on 30 January after being seriously injured at a church in West Auckland.

Wigan Warriors are set to play Huddersfield at the DW Stadium on Thursday 24 February 2022 and will hold a minute’s silence in memory of their former star winger.

Who was Inga the Winger?

The dual-code Rugby legend won 19 caps for the All Blacks and 23 for Samoa in Rugby Union as well as two caps for Samoa in Rugby League.

Tuigamala was born in Faleasiu, Samoa but started his Rugby career at Ponsonby and Auckland and played his first test match for the All Blacks against the US in 1991.

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The Winger moved to England in 1993, switching to Rugby League and joined the Wigan Warriors, scoring 62 tries in 102 appearances for the incredibly successful side.

He won three league titles and two Challenge Cups with the League side before returning to Union.

Tuigamala celebrates 1996 Sevens tournament win with Wigan WarriorsTuigamala celebrates 1996 Sevens tournament win with Wigan Warriors
Tuigamala celebrates 1996 Sevens tournament win with Wigan Warriors | Getty Images

At the end of the 1996 Super League I, Inga was named at centre in the Super League Dream Team.

The former All Blacks star played for Auckland, Wasps and Newcastle during his glittering Union career. He made 126 appearances for Wasps and Newcastle Falcons, scoring 180 points in the process.

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His former team-mate Doddie Weir called Tuigamala “Simply the best rugby player in the world.”

After retiring from the sport, Tuigamala acted as an advisor for his cousin, David Tua the professional heavyweight boxer, and ran a Funeral director company for which the most notable client was the late King of Tonga, Taufa’ahau tupou IV.

Tuigamala was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2008 and in 2009 travelled to Samoa with his cousin to see how they could assist in the aftermath of the tsunami.

What have people said?

League player Jason Robinson, who played with Tuigamala at Wigan has lead tributes for his former colleague, writing on social media:

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“Absolutely heartborken! I owe so much to this amazing man! Literally helped change my life when he came to @WiganWarriorsRL from NZ.”

England full-back Jason Robinson led tributes to former teammate IngaEngland full-back Jason Robinson led tributes to former teammate Inga
England full-back Jason Robinson led tributes to former teammate Inga | AFP via Getty Images

The Wigan club executive director, Kris Radlinksi said: “Every now and then a player comes along who touches the heart and soul of every single fan, player, coach and administrator - Inga was one of them. He was one of the most exciting rugby players to play either code. His presence on the rugby field was huge. As a teenager, he gave me the most precious thing that anyone could, time. We would spend hours on the field doing one on one’s together. It is a very sad day for the club. Rest in peace my friend.”

Apollo Perelini who played alongside Tuigamala for Samoa Rugby League took to twitter to say: “Saddest news to hear. We started primary school together and took our rugby journey to the UK - Saints for me and Wigan for you my brother. RIP my dearest brother, Inga (the winger) Tuigmala.”

His former team, Wigan, tweeted: “This morning, Wgan Warriors are deeply saddened to learn of the tragic news that former player Va’aiga (Inga) Tuigamala has passed away.

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“Wigan Warriors send their deepest condolences to the family and friends at this awful time.”

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