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Career

Mike McRoberts on his former glory days on the rugby field

''I used to play with Steve Hansen back in the day.''

By Kelly Bertrand
Mike McRoberts, All Black? Well, not quite – but if it wasn't for a certain endearingly cranky All Black coach, the chat the Weekly is having with the much-loved Newshub presenter might be going a lot differently.
We're catching up with Mike to talk all things rugby – he's in Japan to front Newshub's coverage of the 2019 Rugby World Cup − and the celebrated journalist reveals he has a deep love of our national game, which could have gone all the way were it not for a bloke they call Shag.
"I used to play with Steve Hansen back in the day," tells Mike, grinning.
"I played club rugby for years – for Suburbs, and he played for Marist in Christchurch. We were both quite big centres back in the day; he probably kept me out of a few rep teams!
"I interviewed him the other day though and reminded him that I ran [rings] around him once – that got a smile."
Despite his lost opportunities on the rugby field, Mike's managed to carve out a niche for himself as Mediaworks' go-to guy for the big stuff.
He really has seen it all – world championships, natural disasters, political upheavals and breaking news events.
And whether he's donning a bullet-proof vest in Syria, pulling on a leotard for Dancing with the Stars or posting a shirtless shot to Instagram that almost broke the internet (he has previously, and rather humbly, compared his toned figure to a "supermarket chicken"), Mike always seems to attract attention.
"Ah, well, anything that pushes you outside of your boundaries is good, right?" he says, eyes twinkling.
"At the start of this year, when I decided to do Dancing with the Stars, I thought, 'This is my 15th year of news.' When you've done something like that for so long, I think it's good to have a bit of a reset. It certainly opened me up to a different audience, they saw me in a different light and I've been really grateful for that.
"Although, I was out filming something the other day up north, and a high school student made the point that they'd only ever known me reading the news. I said, 'Oh, thanks very much!'
"But it did make me feel like reaching for the mobility scooter to get home! Thank goodness I'm a few years off the Supergold card yet…"
Strutting his stuff on Dancing with the Stars with partner Kristie Williams
It's been quite the year for Mike, really.
As well as his turn on the dance floor, he's covered some of the biggest stories of his career – he missed a week of DWTS training to fly to his hometown of Christchurch to cover the aftermath of the March mosque attacks – and has also become a mentor to Newshub's younger journalists.
The 53-year-old − who split from his investigative journalist wife Paula Penfold (50) in 2017 − is even giving pescetarianism a go, telling, "I thought I'd give it a whirl, my daughter [Maia] is vegetarian; I didn't want to go the whole way [though]."
And, of course, there's Japan. It's a country Mike holds a real affinity for after travelling there to cover the devastating 2011 tsunami, which occurred just a month after Christchurch's February earthquake.
"I'll never forget, I had been down in Christchurch as I had been presenting the evening news from down there for three weeks," he begins.
"I was heading home for the weekend with my bag full of dirty washing. I was standing in the airport and I saw on TV this massive wave had hit the coast of Japan, and thought, 'Wow'. I texted the boss a message that just said, 'Japan?'
"By the time I landed at Auckland's domestic terminal, there was a message for me to go straight to the international terminal. On the Thursday I was presenting the news in Christchurch, and on the Friday I was doing it from Tokyo."
Mike raced to Japan in 2011 to cover the aftermath of the country's heart-breaking tsunami.
For a man who, even then, had seen more than his fair share of chaos and tragedy, Mike was shocked by what awaited him in Sendai, one of the worst-affected areas.
"Sendai was the city that was half washed away. The pictures of the planes being chucked around on the airport tarmac like toys… it was remarkable. It was devastation like I'd never seen."
Determined to talk and listen to as many locals as he could, Mike and his team joined a huge line of people waiting to get rations at one of the two still-operational supermarkets, and while he expected to have a few yarns, what happened next was nothing short of extraordinary, he tells.
"It's a fantastic story, actually. The thing I couldn't get over, and it still strikes me every time I go to Japan, is how polite the people are. It's amazing. After waiting for hours in this queue, you'd get to the front door of the supermarket, they'd give you a basket and you got to go and collect 10 items. You pay for it and off you go. No-one's pushing in or anything.
"We're filming and all of a sudden the power goes down, so they couldn't process the payments. And then, people inside the supermarket, with their baskets, took the goods out of the baskets, put them back on the shelves and then went and waited back in the line. I just couldn't believe it. Can you imagine that?"
Mike filed his story and, to his surprise, it went viral.
"It ended up getting picked up by most of the news agencies around the world," he nods.
"And the Japanese government liked the fact that their people were being seen in such a good light around the world, I think, so they invited me back for a two-week tour of Japan. I went up and down the country and did a couple of stories when I was there, so I feel like I know it pretty well."
His local knowledge is definitely coming in handy for his rugby assignment, although he does admit his Japanese is "Ooh, a bit rough."
He points to a beer bottle on the shelf of our shoot location, Auckland's Masu restaurant. "But I do know that says Asahi."
Mike reckons the relationship between New Zealand and Japan has never been stronger, and admits he's openly cheering on the host nation's maverick team. Well, when they're not playing the All Blacks, of course.
"I love, too, the kind of relationship we have with Japan because of those two disasters happening so close together.
"I was at Tokyo airport when our search and rescue team arrived, I remember filming it and it was incredible," he says.
"Everyone knew where they had come from and what they'd been doing, but because the Japanese had been instrumental during the search and rescue operation in Christchurch, when the Kiwis walked through the airport they got a standing ovation. I was fighting back tears. What a moment [it was].
Mike's happy to be back in Japan covering the rugby
"Japan's an amazing place, so I'm hoping to get out and about a bit too. And what better place to be a pescetarian! It's nothing against the meat industry; I just love fish. I told my brother I was giving it a go, and he says, 'Wow'. I said, 'Yeah, well, I'm going to Japan, so…' and he just goes, 'Shut up'."
Rugby certainly runs through the veins of the McRoberts' – while Mike played for years, one of his brothers is the club president and another has played "about 400 games".
"Oh, look, I was okay," he says.
"I enjoyed it. It was a big part of my life for a long time, and I've enjoyed following it since then. This'll be my third or fourth World Cup − not all of them have been good, but the last two have been great! Here's hoping for another win!"

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