Jubilee Cup finals berth for Norths
It was the AJ Va’alepu show at Kilbirnie Park on Saturday as Northern United stormed into Wellington rugby’s Jubilee Cup final with a dominating performance over Poneke.
The 29-3 scoreline can be put down to Norths’ tried-and-true formula – players with single digits on their backs doing a ton of work, and then unleashing the backline. It was only 7-3 at the break, with Poneke commanding in the rucks and mauls, but winger Va’alepu gave them the edge after running on to a grubber kick.
In the second half he scored four more tries, making it 10 for the Jubilee Cup round, including runs of 35 metres and nearly 100m.
‘‘I reckon he’s the fastest player in Wellington rugby,’’ a chuffed Norths coach Frank Rees said. ‘‘I’m really pleased for him – I’ve had a long association with AJ through Porirua College and as well as having that X-factor, he’s a humble guy.’’
Forwards Mana Faraimo and Henry Smith were outstanding, as was halfback Tomasi Palu, who leaves this week to play for Tonga. Rees says he has no absences or injury concerns and this week the focus will be on ‘‘enjoying our time together’’ and training as they have done all season.
‘‘We’ve been taking it a game at a time for a while now, but we’ve planned well in advance. It’s just about managing it all. I’m lucky to have a great set of rugby players. They’re a grounded lot, and all I have to do is get the selections right. These guys have families and jobs, but they do the work at training and when that whistle blows, they’re ready.’’
Norths take on a tough Oriental-Rongotai at Petone Recreation Ground this Sunday, after Ories ground out an 18-15 win over Hutt Old Boys-Marist. Rees says their opponents, a settled team, are fitter than Ories teams of the past and have an extremely strong scrum.
‘‘ They’ve got game breakers there – our backs are small and fleet-footed, while theirs are big and strong, I don’t think they have anyone under six foot [tall] in their backline. They’re going for their first Jubilee Cup [so] they’ll be up for it.’’