http://www.clubrugby.co.nz/ Swindale Shield | 16 March 2017 | Steven White
Almost two decades ago now, Johnsonville won their first and only Wellington club rugby Premier title.
Fielding a monster pack, Johnsonville won the 1998 Swindale Shield. Later that year, Johnsonville’s suburban club rivals Western Suburbs won their first and only Jubilee Cup.
Fast forward two decades and Wests are barely registering on the rugby radar, while the Johnsonville Hawks are coming off a season to forget. Hampered by injuries from the get-go and unable to build any cohesion or momentum, they went winless in the first round and limped home in the second round Premier 2 Hardham Cup.
But things appear to be rosier this year at Helston Park. Their lightweight team, the Johnsonville Terrahawks, have already put one trophy in the cabinet, winning the inaugural Wellington U85kg Sevens Tournament that was hosted by another community club, Wainuiomata.
Logan Tauilili returns in 2017 as the Premier side’s head coach, along with returning Johnsonville club coach Garry Archer, who is also the new head coach of the U18 girls representative side.
Talking with Club Rugby this week, Tauilili said that the Hawks are much better prepared this year than last ahead of the start of the competition, with a positive culture and more players to work with, including some familiar names at Hawks HQ and more importantly more depth.
“The off- season and pre-season has been very good, players are buying into the structures and systems and positive and professional outlook we as a club are heading,” Tauilili explained. “The culture has been there since last year; brotherhood, team unity, passion, commitment and a never give up attitude.”
“This year we are lucky to have former players back and some top level experienced players to add vitality and a fresh vibe to our teams, and we believe this will create that winning culture.”
Some of the experienced players expected to don the blue hoops this season include Kane Thompson, Api Naikatini, Frankie Bryant, Jeff Makapelu, Siaosi Mafi and Soti Faamausili.
“We are very lucky to acquire the service of Kane Thompson, a player with vast top level experience, knowledge and a lot of Mana. Api Naikatini is a player of great talent and skill with experience; he is in France playing at the moment but will be back mid-April. Former Manawatu Turbo player Frankie Bryant brings experience and knowledge to our backs.
“Kenny Hill (first five-eighth) and Patrick Hiscock (midfield/wing) were both in the Manawatu U20s. Jeff Makapelu is back from Paremata Plimmerton and has been with Samoa A, Siaosi Mafi from Norths is an explosive ball carrier and potent defender with a ton of experience. Ten Feo is from Marist in Masterton, Marcus Ale is an exciting flanker from Wairarapa Bush and Simi Navoka is a young prop to also look out for. Dean Ropata is back from Ories, Wise Yabakivou is from Norths, Soti Faamausili is from Poneke, Sai Senileba is from Wests, while Eamonn Tawhiwhirangi is also back at halfback”
Johnsonville also welcome back two players from injury, fullback Tiwi Davies, who missed last season after having knee surgery, and outside back Dane Robertson.
Lock Anthony Pettett, who played for the Hurricanes U20s recently against the Blues U20s, will captain the side.
“Anthony earned the respect from his peers and players. He has shown that regardless of the results, if you stay loyal, play hard and train hard, then doors will always open for you in the representative scene. You don’t need to be playing at the bigger clubs. I believe that the Wellington Union has also got some great coaches in their ranks Chris Gibbes, Andre Bell, Dion Waller, Riki Flutey – these guys have great respect for all clubs and the talented players coming through the Wellington region. It starts from grassroots.”
Other players that featured last season will be much better for the experience. “Romu Senileba, Jacob Walmsley, Eamonn Carr, Fraser McLaren, Nick Murdoch and Warren De Souza are all still at colts age group and have shown they have what it takes to play at Premier level and some will go on to the rep level. Midfielder Kalolo Kalolo is also back, as is Reggie Kopua, and Hemi Remuera returns to anchor the front row.”
Tauilili said that Johnsonville’s supporters are the lifeblood of the club. “They have stuck with our teams through thick and thin and have been at our pre-season games this year. The committee led by well-respected Kerry Walsh who has put together a committee who have really worked tirelessly to ensure the future is bright for our 117 year old club. Our motto “WE BLEED BLUE, WE STAY TRUE BLUE”. These people certainly have it all.”
Johnsonville plays the Wellington Axemen in this Saturday’s Tranzit Coachlines Gala Day opening round fixture for the Mick Kenny Memorial Cup at Maoribank Park.
They then host Paremata-Plimmerton at Helston Park in their first home fixture, ahead of Old Boys University up the road at Nairnville Park in round three.
“I think every game is a tough one, some very hard battles lie ahead, “said Tauilili. “It’s how you manage the first round as 13 games will take its toll on your players. The draw is to be expected no team can hide; everyone will eventually have to go head to head, better sooner than later for us.”
Swindale Shield Round One (all games at 2.45pm):
- Johnsonville v Wellington at Maoribank Park
- Oriental-Rongotai v Paremata-Plimmerton at Maoribank Park
- Avalon v Wainuiomata at Awakairangi Park
- Hutt Old Boys Marist v Upper Hutt Rams at Awakairangi Park
- Marist St Pat’s v Tawa at Awakairangi Park
- Northern United v Poneke at Awakairangi Park
- Old Boys University v Poneke at Awakairangi Park