- By Club Rugby correspondents
The 2019 club rugby season is all but over, and bar a spectacular entry from the tail-end of the Reserve Grade Division 2 competition, our annual Club Rugby website awards are below.
Three club Teams of the Year:
Northern United Premiers – The Jubilee Cup champions had an often rocky road to the title in an extremely competitive season. Norths was unbeaten after five weeks, but staggered towards the end of the Swindle Shield, losing to eventual winners Hutt Old Boys Marist 5-40. Norths impressively revered the Eagles thrashing in the second-round, but a heavy loss to Ories left them having to win their last game in the Jubilee Cup round-robin to progress to the semi-finals. Despite failing to a 12-0 deficit against Tawa, Norths won 24-17 to reach the final four, but were forced into a rematch against Tawa where their start was even worse, this time going down 0-17. However some serious impact off the bench and a try close to fulltime to halfback Campbell Woodmass saw a one point win achieved. The final was a tense affair, but with three tires in the first half an hour and clinical defence in the second-half, Norths lifted the Jubilee Cup for the fifth time. Norths won 12 of 18 games scoring 84 tries. They won half of their games by 10 points or less.
MSP Premier Reserves –Went through an undefeated this season, retaining the Harper Lock Shield for back-to-back undefeated first rounds. Played in the second division HD Morgan Cup for second round owing to their top team missing out on the Jubilee Cup. Challenging keeping the morale up but kept the fire burning, and achieved an undefeated season. Scored 1,039 points in 18 games, including a PF/PA tally of 520 to 114 to win Harper Lock Lock Shield and then 426 to 40 to claim the HD Morgan. Won the semi-final 64-0 and the final 29-28. Averaged 57.72 points for and 10.11 Against. Top try scorer was James Zino with 13 tries, Jay Cameron scored 12, one player scored 9 tries and three 7. About eight players have won four trophies in two years with the MSP Premier Reserves, while the coaching duo of Edwin Meachen and Dan Kauraka were first and second round champions in 2018 and 2019.
Oriental-Rongotai Women’s – Ories won the first and second round titles and overall supremacy in Wellington for the third time in five years. In their last 100 games, Ories have won 86 times by an average score of 47-11. Ories have produced both Pride and Black Ferns selections this year and won the fine against fierce rivals Norths 43-10 after being tied at halftime. Ayesha Leti-I’iga scored a memorable hat-trick with her second try arguably the best scored in any grade this year.
College Team of the Year:
Rongotai College First XV – Scots College might have won the Premiership, but it was Rongotai who showed the greatest improvement, earning a home-semi-final for the first time since 2003. Rongotai was able to break their 16 year losing streak against Wellington College and four days later toppled St Pats Silverstream 10-5; in the previous two years Rongotai had lost that fixture by a combined score of 0-127. Rongotai won 7/10 and lock Bede Brown and inside backs Dylan Jackson and Reon Paul enjoyed particularly noteworthy seasons.
Five Premier Games of the Year:
The Upper Hutt Rams breaking a 27-game duck in Wellington Premier rugby by beating Marist St Pat’s 26-25 at Evans Bay in their fifth round Swindale Shield. The Rams came back in the last few minutes after trailing 16-25 and under the pump upfront. The Rams attacked the scoreboard corner through a lineout and left wing Soli Malatai skirted around to score a bonus try. First five-eighth Tyler Tane then judged the sideline conversion perfectly in the crosswind to cut the home side’s lead to 25-23 with barely a minute to play. From the kick-off, the Rams worked their way up field one final time and won a penalty 40 metres out dead in front. Tane, a former MSP player, stepped up and banged the penalty over to give his side their first Premier victory over MSP since 2002.
Esi Komaisavai was the toast of Porirua Park for Northern United when he, intercepted an Old Boys University pass and scampered 60 metres to score the match-winner in their early season Swindale Shield match and 2018 final reply. With scores locked up at 25-25 in the shadows of fulltime, Komaisavai’s try gave Norths a 30-25 win. OBU had led 15-10 at halftime.
Wainuiomata beating Northern United 24-22 in round three of the Jubilee Cup. Norths were up 12-0 early and later 15-7, before Wainuiomata took a 17-15 lead through the boot of Josh Robertson-Weepu and a try to halfback TJ Va’a. Norths re-took the lead through a try and conversion to Jackson Garden-Bachop but lost a player to a red card and Wainuiomata scored the match-winner with about 5 minutes to play after a sweeping move up the lefthand touchline and wing Saita Tuaoi going over the whitewash. Robertson-Weepu kicked the extras. This was Wainuiomata’s sixth straight win at the time.
Dane Coles was the most high profile player to appear in club rugby this season, the legendary All Black hooker featuring in the last round Swindale Shield fixture between Petone and Poneke. Both teams needed a win to guarantee their place in the Jubilee Cup and after a subdued start it was Coles with a try and a creation of another that had Poneke in charge at halftime. Coles was only permitted to play the first-half, but the second was equally fascinating. Poneke hammered away at the Petone line, but turned down easy kicks and couldn’t breach the Villagers. Eventually momentum turned and Petone scored two tries, the last to reserve wing Sam Blackburn to accomplish an epic 23-17 victory and earn a place in the Jubilee Cup. Poneke would join Petone courtesy of their losing inside seven bonus point and results of other games going their way.
Both Jubilee Cup semi-finals. A death-knock penalty by Wainuiomata fullback Josh Robertson-Weepu and a late try to Northern United halfback Campbell Woodmass propelled the away teams to semi-final wins this afternoon and into next weekend’s Jubilee Cup decider. Robertson-Weepu stepped up from 25 metres out in a handy position to slot a penalty in the dying embers to give Wainuiomata a 21-20 win over Oriental-Rongotai at the Polo Ground. Woodmass finished off a counterattack and sweeping raid up the terrace touchline to score in the corner of Lyndhurst Park to put Northern United up 18-17 with a couple of minutes to play against Tawa.
Upset of the year:
This one came early in the season with Wellington producing a backs-to-the-wall defensive effort to hold out Marist St Pats 13-10 at Hataitai Park. Few fancied the Axemen’s chances coming in, but an Eremia Tapsell try and eight points from Ollie Marshall’s boot proved enough as despite a star-studded side of their own MSP couldn’t break through. Wellington would register only one other win in the Swindale, but this result also played a significant part in MSP joining them in the Hardham Cup; the latter for the first time since 1974.
Men’s player of the year:
Kemara Hauiti-Parapara. The Billy Wallace Best and Fairest winner wrapped up that competition with a week to spare in the round-robin and played 14 of team’s 17 matches and on a different day would have led his side into the Jubilee Cup final. In top form all season, the halfback was a dynamic link between backs and forwards and was duly rewarded with a Wellington Lions contract again. Greg Lealofi leading Wainuioata to the final was huge, while special mention too to Tuakana Meterau – the Ories captain and lock/loose forward is a tower of industry and always leads from the front.
Women’s player of the year:
There’s an old Sportscenter line about “you can’t stop her, you can only hope to contain her” which certainly applies to the Ories winger Ayesha Leti-L’iga. Through various factors such as Black Ferns duty and her side being defaulted to three times in the first round she only played in five matches for the Lady Magpies this year but still scored 19 tries in those outings with five-fors against Petone, Pare-Plim, and MSP, and having scored once against Norths in the Stadium game added three more in the championship Tia Paasi Memorial final as Ories regained the title. Her club tallies now stand at 110 tries in 50 matches, and she is still only 20 years old!
Rookie Premier forward of the Year:
Tawa lock Hugo Plummer was always on the radar having captained last year’s Wellington Under 18 side, but the former Onslow College student overcame a somewhat torrid start to his premier club career to excel as the season went on and became his side’s go-to option at lineout time.
Rookie Premier back of the Year:
The name Solomona Mapesone isn’t a familiar one to many, but the Wainuiomata HS product made a smooth transition from playing Premier 3 college rugby to playing premier rugby down the road in the same green and black colours. Mainly used on the wing but also adept at both half and fullback he made an understated contribution to Wainuiomata’s run to the Jubilee Cup final.
Underrated Premier player of the Year:
A special mention for Petone halfback Logan Henry, who despite a series of excellent and consistent performances can’t get a look in at the Lions squad. Henry saw off the highly-touted Carlos Price last season for the #9 jersey at the Rec and was even better this year. That was recognised by the match officials who saw him finish second to Hauiti-Parapara in the Best and Fairest, but it seems inexplicable that Wellington have brought in two halfbacks from outside the province for the NPC campaign rather than give the Villager a well-deserved crack at the next-level.
Captain of the Year:
There are those that lead from the front, and then there’s Petone Premier Reserve captain Jack Coles who seldom leaves the field having given less than 110% for his side and led his team to the Premier Reserve final. The Wellington College teacher is also one of the best at interacting with referees, always calm and seldom accusatory. Coles is a sixth generation Petone player.
Secondary School Player of the Year: Ropati So’oalo.
The Aotea College midfield back and co-captain is a cut above and a seems to find another gear when required seemingly at will. A NZ Schools Barbarians selection last year he must be a great shout for full honours this time, having time and again taken games by the scruff of the neck when needed, particularly their Beard Trophy triumph over Tawa College and his hat-trick in the Coed Cup final against Upper Hutt College.
Thrilling finish of the Year in a non-Premier encounter:
When Oriental-Rongotai and Northern United met in their first match of the second round at the Polo Ground and also in Jonah Ngan-Woo’s 100th game an even game came alive in the last 5 minutes, with Norths scoring what could have been the match-winning try from an attack down the left side of the field. This put Norths ahead 20-14. Ories launched a last-gasp assault and were rewarded with a try to flanker Sinead Ryder. Second five-eighth Amanda Rasch calmly converted from near the sideline for the 21-20 win.
The April Junket Award: When the Hurricanes Development team (Hunters) went to Japan with the Hurricanes to play the Sunwolves and Japan A respectively. Great for the players involved, but less so for the clubs they should have been playing for that weekend. No defaults in Wellington Premier club rugby yet, but there will be one of these seasons soon as depth is tested to breaking point.
The well-earned retirement award: Wests Roosters Mixed Veges player Roy ‘Radish’ Hoerara hung up his boots after 360 games for that side and 40 years of playing Senior club rugby in Wellington.
The White Line Fever Award: Luca Rees. Transferred to Norths from Ories in 2019 after scoring 24 tries the previous season and picked up from where he left off. Rees finished the first round with 16 tries in 10 games including four-try hauls against both Johnsonville and Paremata-Plimmerton. He served a suspension for three weeks in the Jubilee rounds but returned to finish with 18 tries.
The Onion Rings Award: This is a salute to officialdom. This one goes to the Wellington City Council for butchering Evans Bay Parade for most of the season between Kilbirnie and Evans Bay Parks by the construction of a cycleway that reduced carparking on Saturday’s in this area to an even bigger lottery than it already is. Good for cyclists but less so for people playing and watching Saturday sports.
The Premier Debut to remember Award: Steven Va’a – on Premier debut – scored four tries for Oriental-Rongotai against Paremata-Plimmerton, while his brother Reuben scored another two in a 57-0 win. Steven has advanced to the Wellington Under 19’s.
The You Are The Only One Award: Justin Wilson (Jr). Records will show that the Paremata-Plimmerton fullback kicked the only dropped-goal of the Premier season, having potted one early in their 25-all draw with Avalon in the Hardham Cup.
International selection award: Northern United 18-year-old Dhys Faleafaga (St Mary’s College, 2018), for earning selection as a a contracted member of the Black Ferns Sevens squad for the remainder of 2019. Made her international sevens debut at the Kitakyushu leg in Japan in April.
The back from retirement Award: Or is that backfired from retirement. Running short on numbers due to injuries and NZ Universities commitments Old Boys University called up ‘retired’ players Ross and Ian Kennedy and former Hurricanes and All Blacks lock/flanker Jason Eaton for their Swindale Shield encounter with Petone. The latter was red carded at the end so his maiden appearance in Wellington club rugby and OBU lost 12-23, so not a memorable return. The opposite is true of Wainuiomata prop Justin Va’a. The 42-year old played a second Jubilee Cup final and was an effective contributor in a number of games for Wainuiomata this season.
The late run to the semi-finals award: The Paraparaumu U85kg side winning at the death in consecutive weeks to make the Paul Potiki Shield final. They qualified fourth by scoring an 83rd minute try against the HOBM Howlers and then they kicked an 81st minute penalty the following week to beat defending champions the Upper Hutt Rams. The run would end in the final the following week, but it took more than 70 minutes for Avalon to put the coasters away.
The Double double-act: Ories stalwart Paulo Aukuso made history when he became the first Magpie to reach the 200-game mark in their Jubilee Cup clash with Norths at the Polo Ground. He was joined a week later by Whetu Henry when they played Poneke at Kilbirnie Park, with both players receiving rousing haka’s as acknowledgement of their achievements. It certainly didn’t hurt that both players won in their milestone encounters as well.
Long time between drinks award: That same game where Aukuso brought up his 200th also saw the return of Ma’a Nonu to the black and white hoops. It was the former All Black’s first outing for the Magpies since the epic 2013 Jubilee Cup semi-final win over HOBM, and his 40th in all (albeit just his sixth since 2007). Under normal circumstances that would earn him a club blazer, but his other achievements in the game mean that was awarded some time ago.
Two milestone matches to remember: When a group of current and former Wainuiomata High School First XV players performed a haka for old boy Bevan Clark in his 100th appearance for the club’s Premier side and Wainuiomata went on to beat Old Boys University Lock Sanita Levave celebrated her her 150th match for Norths with a 56-7 win over Ories in their return second round encounter. Norths ran rampant to inflict a first defeat of the year on Ories. Norths scored 10 tries to various try-scorers. Ories would reverse this result by winning the final 43-10.
Sledge of the year: After a couple of years hiatus, the Rams’ veteran Ben Aoina returned to Premier rugby midway through the Swindale Shield against Poneke. His entrance to his second game back the following week against Ories prompted a quick-witted interjection from one well-known member of the Magpies flock, asking if he was in the right game because the “Pressies are playing over on number 2.”
Most Individual points in a match: Jane Bryce scored 39 points for the MSP Women’s team in their 113-0 first-round win over Poneke, made up of 5 tries and 7 conversions. Not bad considering she was the reserve hooker and didn’t start the match!
The unlucky injury award: Wellington Pride standout and Black Fern Monica Tagoai’s season ended before it got started, breaking her leg in a preseason hit-out for her MSP side against Ories, and denying her the opportunity to stake her claim for further international honours this year. Her injury was bookended by her fellow international Marcelle Parkes who dislocated her shoulder early in MSP’s Izzy Ford Cup final win over Pare-Plim, likewise ruling her out of the Pride’s season.
The club rugby headline we shouldn’t have used: First Round champions HOBM not partying like it’s 2015 after the team won the Swindale Shield.