- By Scott Maclean
Aside from the Lions and Pride, the representative season for most Wellington region senior teams finished two weeks ago. However one that still has business to take care of is the Wellington Maori side – Te Upoko O Te Ika – who have their annual Te Tini A Maui tournament against their counterparts from the lower North Island this weekend.
Not only are Wellington the holders of the Hikaia Amohia Trophy but are also looking to complete an unbeaten campaign, having beaten the Wellington Samoans (twice) and Centurions Development locally, and hit the road for wins over the Whanganui, Manawatu, Canterbury, and Tasman Maori sides.
Of those, Maori head coach Justin Wilson says the win over Canterbury as the most satisfying given the team traveled shorthanded. “Playing for the Tirakatene Shield against Canterbury is our Test match of the season. Having to go down with only 20 players, play in the worst conditions of the year and against a pack as big as a South African one we could easily have folded but not this team. The heart and Wairua of the boys to play for each other got us up 20-19. Super proud of a real team performance.”
Of this year’s squad he nominates three players who have excelled: “Matthew Jacobs has been outstanding all season for his Wainuiomata side and has elevated to another level since joining Te Upoko o te Ika. His endless work rate tireless energy and stinging defence has him locked into one of the nominees of our player of the year.
“Pakai Turia committed to our programme early and his leadership meant we were heading in the right direction, but it has been his X-factor around the paddock that has left opponents bewildered, and what is happening surely with a solid 2020 club season he must be in the running for another opportunity with the Lions.
“Finally our bolter, 20-year old openside flanker William Rua not even a regular starter in Premier rugby this year, however I’m sure that will change in 2020. This raw boned, tough, hearty warrior is a rising star and simply unbelievable for Te Upoko O Te Ika in his debut season. Lethal on defence not missing a tackle for the whole campaign he also possesses speed and skills on attack that could have him in any midfield next year but more likely locked onto some scrum terrorising every ruck he gets too.”
There was also a special moment this year following the game against the Wellington Samoans where three stalwarts of Maori Rugby – props Whetu Henry, Apanui Heemi, and Jonathan Fuimaono – were presented with blazers for their contributions and service.
“These men have served Maori rugby with the highest level of distinction,” said Wilson. “There are not enough accolades for what they have done for Maori rugby but also their service to Wellington Rugby. The presentation of these blazers is a sign of the Mana these guys have earned and deserve in their rugby careers.”
This year’s Te Tini A Maui tournament is a one-day affair on Saturday. Wellington are drawn to face Horowhenua-Kapiti in the morning and presuming that they are successful they will face either Manawatu or Hawke’s Bay in the afternoon. Wilson expects it’ll be a long day, but “It’s been a torrid club and rep season it’s important to stay focused on just doing our jobs on and off the paddock. We have the talent, belief, and plan to finish on top.”
“A perfect 9 from 9 was our goal now we just have to execute one more time and we will be able to celebrate a wonderful achievement for Te Upoko O Te Ika and Wellington Rugby.”
Wellington Maori squad for Saturday:
Jordan-Glen Bradbrook (HOBM), Adam Clark (OBU), Sam Clarke (Tawa), Tanara Haenga (Wainuiomata), Declan Hay (Ories), Matt Jacobs (Wainuiomata), Taisson Lealaisalanoa (Pare-Plim), Jayden McCarthy (Norths), Apirana McMillan-Parata (Poneke), Caleb Nicholas (Pare-Plim), Luke Omeri (Pare-Plim), Sheridan Rangihuna (HOBM), Joe Reid (Wellington), Rhys Reiri (Poneke), William Rua (HOBM), Taine Tata (Upper Hutt Rams), Pakai Turia (Poneke), Dylan Williamson (Petone), Justin Wilson Jr (Pare-Plim). Others TBC
For more visit Te Tini a Maui Central Maori Rugby on Facebook