A League of their own

Auckland’s inner-city suburb of Grey Lynn has undergone significant gentrification since the Ah Kuoi aiga-family arrived from Samoa in the early 1960s. But while many Pacific families then headed to Auckland’s outer suburbs, the Ah Kuois have proudly retained a strong presence through their family ties, with Isaac Ah Kuoi now staking his mark in the development scene



Company director and rugby league stalwart Isaac Ah Kuoi-Atmore is rightly proud to be part of a unique family sporting history he knows will never be surpassed. The Ah Kuoi family name, which links back to the village of Lefaga in Samoa, is synonymous with the Richmond Rovers Rugby League Club, now in its 106th year and based in the Auckland inner city suburb of Grey Lynn, a popular destination for many Pacific families migrating to New Zealand from the islands in the 1950s and 60s.


Among Richmond’s many heroes is Isaac’s uncle Fred Ah Kuoi, who has the distinction of being the first Pacific sportsman to captain a full New Zealand side from any team sports code. Now a pastor returned from the United States, Fred was first chosen to represent the Kiwis rugby league team at the 1975 World Cup as a teenager. He went on to a successful test career spanning a decade playing for North Sydney in Australia and Hull in the UK, alongside a number of Kiwis who became international league legends.


Yet it could all have been so different if not for competing codes.


“I was told that when the family first came to Grey Lynn in 1962, many of the boys wanted to play rugby union for Ponsonby,” says Isaac, knowing the union club’s dominance in Auckland club rugby which spans more than a century, boasting a record number of All Blacks to have worn the blue and black union jersey.


“But Nana (Siutu Ah Kuoi) said her boys should be playing rugby league for Richmond because our house was right on the doorstep and we didn’t have to go far,” he says with a laugh.


“The only one to break the trend was uncle Paul, who played more than 100 union games for Ponsonby.”


The Richmond Rugby League club has more than 400 junior grade players, 300 senior grade players and 200 social club members.


Isaac’s mother Liz Ah Kuoi manages Richmond’s Premiers as well as managing the Vodafone Warriors women’s rugby league team.


Like many in his family, Isaac followed his uncles (including Fred) and brothers and attended Mt Albert Grammar, where he eventually became head boy at the school.



Isaac is proud to have achieved 50 premier grade appearances for Richmond. He also spent a season playing for the London Skolars club based in North London as part of his OE as an overseas player, allowing him to work in the UK under his Samoan passport, which enabled him to see the sights of Europe. His most memorable and frightening experience?


“Trying to tackle Fuifui Moimoi,” he responds with a laugh, knowing the Tongan’s rampaging reputation for steamrolling opponents and defence and attack from Moimoi’s National Rugby League days.


“I just jumped on him, held on for dear life and eventually brought him down.”




Upon returning to New Zealand, Isaac searched for business opportunities and saw one with his grandmother’s property on New North Road in the central Auckland suburb of Avondale.


“The amount of land involved enabled Land Dividers to sub-divide, where nana could either rent it out or help a family member get a foot in the door on the property ladder,” he recalls.


“It’s particularly relevant in today’s market because the capital gains from rising property values simply aren’t there anymore. So, if you’re looking at setting it up properly, you have to know where to start because you’ve got your drain layers, draftspersons, sub-contractors, surveyors, engineers and so on, who all want to be paid on time.”


Isaac says funds towards the process are put into their lawyers’ trust account, so the contractors will know that as soon as their work is completed, they’ll be paid in a timely fashion.


As Director of Land Dividers Ltd (B.Com), Isaac says opportunities still exist for Pacific people who have land that is large enough to subdivide.


“There are still Pacific families around Auckland who have properties that can be sub-divided, but often not the income to develop it,” he says.


“We get landlords coming to us saying they want out because they can’t see decent capital gains for at least the next five to 10 years. The LVR (Loan to Value Ratio) has flattened. Subdividing provides genuine options because you can buy a potential sub-dividable property and either rent part of it out to a tenant or use it to help other family members get a foot-hold in the property.”


Isaac describes his business as a one-stop shop.



“People come to us not knowing where to start. We complete the entire subdivision for the home owner. We give them options. It’s like a One-Stop Shop.”


Isaac is grateful for the opportunities created by his Samoan family who came to New Zealand before him. And that feeling is reciprocated among the Ah Kuoi family.


‘’Liz Ah Kuoi (Fred’s younger sister and Isaac’s mother) has been contracted by Auckland Rugby League to set up homework centres in Auckland league clubs. This provides kids with healthy food options before training, helps them set goals and encourages them to a pathway to trades and university, which really opens their eyes.


“At Richmond, Uncle Peter still helps out while working as a police officer along with Uncle Andrew. They both volunteer as coaches and help out at junior and senior levels.


“Richmond Rovers really is a family club.”


Read this and more features like it in the latest issue of SPASIFIK, out now.