By Nicholas Jones
Willie Apiata has moved on from his job helping at-risk youth – and is now being handled by Richie McCaw‘s management team.
Securing someone with the mana of Mr Apiata was a coup for the trust, but the move appears to have not worked out after less than two years.
Mr Apiata is now being managed by experienced rugby player agent Warren Alcock of Essentially Group. The international sport and entertainment marketing company’s clients include All Blacks Richie McCaw and Dan Carter and cricketer Dan Vettori.
Mr Apiata had been running the High Wire Trust’s satellite camp at Awhitu Peninsula, which hosts at-risk youth for activities including high ropes, abseiling and kayaking.
The trust was set up in memory of Papakura liquor magnate Michael Erceg, whose widow, Lynne, is a trustee. Financial statements for the year ended March 31, 2013, show it received more than $3 million in donations, but a concern was a reliance on continuing support from the major benefactor.
It has links with the armed forces, running an academy to help young people towards military careers.
When Mr Apiata announced his move to High Wire, Prime Minister John Key said he was a loss to the Defence Force, but would prove a great role model for at-risk children.
The Herald had been told that Mr Apiata became frustrated with the opportunities available to him at High Wire, but the trust’s chief executive, David Hopkins, strongly denied that.
“That’s wrong – he hasn’t left under a cloud or anything, Willie’s left for other things, to advance his profile and do different things,” said Mr Hopkins, who served with Mr Apiata in the Defence Force. “He’s also still in contact with the trust. Willie’s a good man. Life goes on, I suppose.”
Late last year Mr Apiata signed up with Essentially Group, Mr Hopkins said, and was managed by Mr Alcock.
The Dunedin-based lawyer, who has been involved with rugby contracts since the move to professionalism in 1995, could not be reached for comment yesterday.
An “Essential Speakers” section on the group’s website said it was launching this month.
Mr Apiata is a former corporal in the SAS and received the VC in 2007 for bravery under fire in Afghanistan after carrying a gravely wounded comrade across a battlefield to safety.
Originally from the eastern Bay of Plenty township of Te Kaha, he has made several public appearances in recent months, including during April commemorations for the Battle of Gate Pa in Tauranga.
Simon Collett, who helped organise the commemorations, said it was a thrill to have the war hero speak.
“It was outstanding. He’s quite a nervy speaker, but man, when he was speaking you could hear a pin drop. There’s something about him, there’s a real presence.”
According to the Australian newspaper, Mr Apiata addressed the Melbourne Storm before their clash with the Warriors on the same day.
The NRL club was bought last year by a syndicate headed by Kiwi sports lawyer Bart Campbell, a director of Essentially Group.