- By Adam Julian
Much of this conversation with Galu Taufale was made in last week’s episode of the Huddy Hui, link to it in full below.
This time last year Poneke was struggling, consigned to the Hardham Cup.
What a difference a year makes. Having won that Premier 2 final in 2021, Poneke are now second in this year’s Swindale Shield with a month to play before the Jubilee Cup knockout rounds.
Poneke has won 15 of their last 16 games. In 2022 they have won eight of nine matches, six of those games by five points or less.
What’s changed at Poneke?
“It is just a different culture. Each year you go into a campaign with the core group, but with some new players and some returning players who you hope will step up,” Taufale said.
“Those young players have really done this so far this season. The returning players have improved their games and taken on more responsibility and that has helped.
“Plus the coaching and what they bring to the team, it has all just come together and we have the common goal of making the top four of the Swindale Shield and to be in contention for the Jubilee Cup at the end.”
Poneke defeated Hutt Old Boys Marist 29-25 on Saturday after trailing for long periods of the match. Taufale scored two tries as Poneke eventually subdued a much larger pack.
“As a pack we didn’t even talk about them being a big pack, we just played like we have been and that’s with all heart and physicality.
“In regards to my tries, I was just happy to get out of the zero club as I hadn’t scored one this year. The first try Hutt had a 4 on 2 on the blind and I just took a risk, backed my instincts, and got the intercept. The second try I wasn’t even expecting the cross kick, I only just got to it and was lucky I was running at full speed as my momentum just got me over the line.”
Two such players who have joined Poneke straight out of school this year are Sam Howling from Kelston Boys’ High School and Maea Tema-Schmidt from Scots College. Both boys are in the Hurricanes U20s, although the latter has recently been out with a shoulder injury and didn’t play in the recent tournament. They are two youngsters who’ve contributed significantly to Poneke’s building momentum.
“Maea has impressed coming straight out of college and taking to Premier rugby and dominating collisions. Sam has got a great pass, makes sound decisions and if it’s on he will give it a go as he has got good speed.”
Ezekiel Fiso and the Tuifao-Galuvao brothers Noah and Mosses are other players making a big impression. Former Hurricanes prop Reg Goodes and US international Toby Robson have teamed up as coaches.
In contemporary times, Poneke at the top of the table could be considered out of place. But for the best part of 15 seasons from the mid-1990s, highlighted by their two most recent Jubilee Cup successes in 1996 and 2003, they were consistently at or near the top of the standings.
Poneke appeared in six of eight Jubilee Cup finals between 1999-2006.
“I have been here for 11 seasons, and we haven’t won eight out of nine games.
“It just comes down to everyone wanting the same thing and buying in. Nothing to take away from the team we had then, but it is just a different and good feeling this year.”
Remarkably Poneke has only scored 24 tries which is the third worst attacking record in the Swindale Shield. However, they have developed an ability to hang in. Last year they beat Petone in a dramatic Hardham Cup decider on Finals Day at the Hutt Rec.
Taufale leading the team out against Petone a fortnight ago. PHOTO: Andy McArthur.
“That was typical of Poneke-Petone matches. We were dominating the first 20-30 minutes but we just couldn’t quite crack them. They were very good at absorbing pressure. They then managed to fight back.
“I thought with two minutes to go we were gone – we were down seven points. Then our impact player James ‘Rocket’ Mose came on and scored a try under the posts that put us into extra time. I was gone, I was off my feet, so it was adrenaline that got us going again into extra time and we pushed through to take the win.”
Petone turned down a kickable penalty at the start of extra time and went for the try. Poneke got the turnover and scored at the other end. Poneke won 32-24.
Their match for the F.J. Tilyard Shield a fortnight ago was similar, Poneke holding on to win 28-21.
“We started well and took a good early lead. As Petone do; they fought back, just like they did the previous week against Hutt Old Boys Marist and it was 21-21 with about 10 minutes to play. Conor Strang scored the winning try. He’s been another one to really step up this year.”
What other clubs are tough to crack?
“Our games against Ories are always physical, hard fought and close. Plus those against Marist St Pat’s and Old Boys University – pretty much all our matches against the eastern suburbs and city teams are big encounters.”
Taufale scoring the winning try for Poneke against Ories in their annual Jimmy Grbich Shield match in 2020. Poneke won 20-15.
Poneke’s only defeat this year was against Old Boys University at Nairnville Park in round five, losing 51-18.
“We were up just after halftime, but we had a couple of injuries [Taufale himself was a late scratching in the warm-ups], and they ran away from us by scoring three or four consecutive tries.
“Every week is a test match; most teams are very competitive.”
Taufale started as a junior in Johnsonville where he grew up and initially returned there as a school leaver, playing a couple of years of Colts rugby and his debut season in 2007 in Premiers.
He then moved across to the Wests Roosters and played four years there, before joining Poneke in 2012.
Playing for Wests in 2008 – chasing down MSP halfback Peter Sciascia.
Sixteen years on, he is now the talismanic captain of Poneke with 118 matches under his belt. What are the keys to being a successful captain?
“I think I have learned to try and get the best out of the players, and I have found they listen to me and hopefully they take my advice on board.”
Taufale played three tests for Manu Samoa in 2017, the same year he captained the Wellington Lions having debuted the previous season aged 29.
Read our story from 20 July 2017 with Galu Taufale at this link here: http://www.clubrugby.co.nz/wellington/story.php?id=2510