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Viliami doing Fine in Southland

Viliami Fine playing for the Southland Stags in last Sunday’s National Provincial Championship opener against Waikato. PHOTO: Debbie Fahey Photography.

  • By Steven White

Viliami Fine will be returning to his backyard should he get the opportunity to play against the Wellington Lions next weekend in Southland’s Ranfurly Shield challenge at the Hutt Recreation Ground.

“The family lives about two minutes away from the Hutt Rec, so they will be there for that game, so it would be special to play there with everyone there watching on,” said Fine.

Fine is a former St Bernard’s College First XV and 80-game Petone Rugby Football Club Premier player, who headed south almost three years ago for greater rugby opportunities.

“It was always a goal to push for higher honours in rugby and I wasn’t really getting that in Wellington. At the same time, I was reluctant to leave, as my older brother Paasi [now living in Perth] had left in 2016 and I wanted to stay around in his absence.

“But an opportunity came from Otago. It was hard leaving home, but I knew that if I did so I was going to have make the move worth it.”

He joined the Harbour club and spent 2021 and subsequently 2022 playing Premier club rugby in Dunedin.

“I was lucky enough earn a NPC contract after the Dunedin club rugby season in my first year there.”

He was rewarded with a call-up to the Otago NPC squad, making six appearances including two starts.

He missed out on the Otago squad in 2022 but joined Southland on an initial five-week injury cover contract. That turned into the whole season, and he played 10 matches and was asked to stay.

This year Fine has been playing his club rugby for Woodlands –  in a backline that includes former St Pat’s Town and Poneke player Tauasosi Tuimavave and recent Mana College school leaver Sione Baker.

A typical line-up for Woodlands this year would see Tuimavave at second five, Fine at centre and Baker on the wing.

The team reached the semi-finals of Southland’s Galbraith Shield after finishing as top qualifier.

“It is often cold playing down here, but the worst conditions this year was probably the semi-final day. We woke up and there was a bit of snow on the glass, and it was windy and hailing throughout the afternoon. It was more of a forwards game and we lost.”

Fine and some of his Stags teammates have been working as a teacher aide this year at Ruru Specialist School, helping students with physical and mental disabilities, a satisfying job that he enjoys.

Fine was on Southland’s right wing in their NPC opener on Sunday when his team found themselves trailing Waikato 19-3 after as many minutes.

This could have been more, if not for a dropped ball over the line on the opposite wing.

“We talked beforehand about not being happy that we came close and lost, we want to be better than that. So we were happy that we stuck in there, but it wasn’t the result that we wanted.”

The Stags played much better in the second half, Fine scoring a try just after halftime. Waikato won 29-21.

The Stags are hosting Northland in their second match this coming Sunday, before turning to play Wellington in round three at the Hutt Rec.

Should he be involved in that game, it will be his third Ranfurly Shield challenge in his 19th NPC match, for both Otago and Southland. He played for Otago for the Ranfurly Shield against Hawke’s Bay in 2021 and for Southland against the Magpies last year.

He has also played against the Lions once previously, losing 28-41 with the Stags last September.

He might be living in the deep south, but Fine still follows the fortunes of Petone closely.

“When I come back to Wellington, even if it is just for the week, I try and make sure I can get in on their Tuesday and Thursday night trainings. I was the waterboy for Petone in one game earlier this year against Ories [the 30-29 Swindale Shield loss at the Polo Ground].”

The door is open to wear Petone colours in the future, the club he debuted for at the start of 2016 in spectacular fashion after being a Petone Junior.

This was the McBain Shield match in 2016 against Hutt Old Boys Marist, where he scored a hat-trick including the winning try at the end.

It was a long looping pass from then veteran replacement midfielder August Collins, which let Fine loose, and he scored his third (and the match winner) in the corner to seal the game 27-23.

Scoring the winning try in his starting debut only a few months out of school in the 2016 McBain Shield match against Hutt Old Boys Marist.

“This was early in the season and the week before I was on the bench against OBU and there was an injury on the wing. So at training during the week they told me I was starting in the McBain. That was a game that I had always watching growing up.

“But what it made it more special was that my brother Paasi was playing for the HOBM that day, he came off the bench for the Eagles, and this was his last game before he left for Perth.

“That McBain game would have to be up there amongst my favourite games.”

The following year, Fine was Petone’s fullback as they retained the McBain Shield in emphatic style on the Hutt Rec, winning 49-31.

By this website’s records, he played 81 times for Petone and scored 47 tries and was tracking to become one of the club’s fastest players to 100 Premier games.

Scoring the match-winner in a 2017 match against the Upper Hutt Rams.

His last year at school at St Bernard’s College was 2015. “My last year in school we were playing Premier 2. We made the final, but we lost to Bishop Viard College.”

On the field, Fine is a distinctive player with his ever-present headgear.

“That is something that I have always worn, to hold my hair down. I started wearing it in school and it is just something that I like to wear in every game – I don’t think I would be able to play a game without it now.”

Any story with Fine would be remiss to mention his red card in his one and only international representing Tonga. Fine came off the bench against England and was sent off for an offence of ‘striking’ English player Marcus Smith.

The offence aside, Fine said it was a thrill playing at Twickenham in front of 82,000 people.

“That was unreal. I have never experienced anything like that. Sitting on the bench I said to one of my teammates I just want to go back inside and grab my phone and video this.”

He also played a tournament with the Tonga Sevens team, a World Rugby challenger series tournament in Uruguay.

For now, Fine is simply enjoying his rugby, working hard helping the Stags in this year’s NPC and seeing what the future holds.

Footnote: The 2016 McBain Shield match – has there been a more spectacular starting debut in Wellington club rugby? 

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