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Alex Ropeti – Family Ties Building Momentum

Alex Ropeti playing against Poneke. Photo: David Brownlie.

  • By Adam Julian

Oriental Rongotai has faced Jubilee Cup elimination for five weeks and won five times to set up a meeting with Swindale Shield winners Paremata-Plimmerton in the final at the Hutt Rec on Saturday.

“We are the eighth seed. It’s a great feeling being underdogs and showing everyone what we’re really made of,” versatile back Alex Ropeti said.

“The more settled our line-up has become, the more momentum we’ve built. When it’s a do or die every week there’s a built-in mentality that develops about resilience and fearlessness.

“We’ve struck a good balance between youth and experience and are ready to leave it all out there,” he warned.

Two months ago, Ropeti was playing for Ponsonby in Auckland. In 2022 he helped the ‘Ponies’ make the Gallaher Shield semi-finals. This year he only lost one match while completing two-thirds of the regular season.

A new job as business development manager for Employsure brought Ropeti back to the capital – more worldly but yearning for home.

Ropeti debuted for Old Boys University in 2016 out of St Patrick’s College, Wellington. Between 2017 and 2019 he helped Ories to three Jubilee semis before returning to OBU in 2020 and winning a Jubilee Cup, He missed the final because of injury.

“There are some distinct differences between Auckland and Wellington. In Auckland, there’s a wider pool of players, but it’s more individually focused which takes away from that homely, whanau-oriented culture we have in Wellington,” Ropeti said.

“I feel like playing a lot of senior rugby in two cities, and at three different clubs, has made me a better player. I’m comfortable switching from centre to first five. Playing both positions has given me a greater appreciation for finding space and varying my kicking game.”

Those attributes have been essential in Ories’ revival. Ropeti scored two tries in his first appearance for the Magpies in 2023, a 48-27 win against Avalon in Round 10 of the Swindale Shield.

A narrow loss to the students in Round 11 left Ories needing two wins to guarantee their place in the Jubilee Cup. The Magpies smashed Poneke 49-7 to capture the Jim Grbich Memorial Shield and then Ropeti scored a try in a 24-23 success against Upper Hutt.

Ropeti playing first five this past Saturday with the cross-kick for the match-sealing try.

The Jubilee Cup started with a 25-15 elimination of Marist St Pats before another mighty struggle against Upper Hutt

“Upper Hutt scored a penalty try to level the scores with a few minutes to play. That was a massive momentum swing and finishing games with momentum is so important,” Ropeti said.

“I was a little worried about how some of the younger boys might react, but we had the wind at our backs, and it was my job to get us back down their end. When we did that our forwards, who’ve been incredible this year, went to work.”

Playing in the recent match against the Upper Hutt Rams. Photo: Andy McArthur.

Ories was down 23-0 to Johnsonville in the semi-final on Saturday. There was no panic despite the failure to solve a season-long problem.

“We’ve been guilty of starting slowly all year. The coaches have tried everything to change it, different warm-ups, shorter training, longer training, anything,” Ropeti laughed.

“I feel like we reached our true potential in the second half of the Upper Hutt and Johnsonville games. We have spurts of 20 minutes where we are really good, in the zone. If we could stay, there longer it would be amazing.

“Paremata-Plimmerton have a crucial spine of match winners so we can’t afford to start slow. I played with Dale Sabbagh, and he knows how to play winning rugby. He’s got an educated boot and attacks smartly when needed. If Ethan Webster-Nonu gets a lick of space he’s gone.”

Ories are experienced in the pack with centurion Connor Lemon partnering captain and “action man” Penieli Poasa. Samson Alaimoana and Siaosi Lavea have been unsung heroes while Sione Halaillo is destructive on the openside.

Isaac Bracewell is a mature halfback who’s represented Wairarapa Bush at Heartland level with former nine and centurion Declan Hay adjusting to fullback with commendable skill.  He has scored 123 points.  Daniel Tafili has scored seven tries covering wing and centre, but Alex is most excited to be playing alongside his younger brother, Wellington Lions blindside Dominic Ropeti.

“We played together at OBU in 2021 but he was just out of school. He’s smashing it now and that’s so special.

“We’re more like best mates than brothers, though if he gets one up on me, he’s quick to let me know. That changes on the field. There’s no place for that. We’ve got each other’s backs. You’ll hear our cousins, uncles, and aunties, even before they get to the ground.  It’s huge for us.”

Alex (ball in hand) and Dominic (left) late in Saturday’s semi-final against Johnsonville.

Some examples of brothers to have won the Jubilee Cup in the same team in the same season* – last 20 years:

Fa’atoto, Misiluni and Misipalauni Moananu (Poneke 2003)

Peter Savelio and Savelio Savelio (Poneke 2003)

Jacob and Tamati Ellison (Northern United 2006)

Nick and Jason Risdon (HOBM 2007 and 2014)

Peter and Matt Time (HOBM 2007)

Francis and Telea Seumanutafa (Northern United 2008)

Nene and AJ Va’alepu (Northern United 2010)

Matt and Shaun Treeby (Tawa 2013)

Steve So’oialo and James So’oialo (Tawa 2013)

TJ and Hemi Fermanis (Tawa 2016)

Wes and Matt Goosen (OBU 2017)

Taine and Reece Plumteee (OBU 2020)

Noah Ironside and Luca Rees (Norths 2022)

*Some other sets of brothers have also won Jubilee Cups playing for the same team, but not in the same final. One of this  being all three Ellison brothers for Northern United, Tamati in 2004, Jacob in 2006 and Leon in 2010.

Alex Ropeti scores for Ories from fullback against Tawa in 2020.

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One thought on “Alex Ropeti – Family Ties Building Momentum

  1. Hi, you forgot about brothers Noah Ironside and Luca Rees 2022 Jubilee win. Please amend if you can

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