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Ties to church and family key to Penieli Poasa’s success

Ories captain Penieli Poasa and teammates with the Jubilee Cup last July. Photo: Stewart Baird.

  • By Steven White

Penieli Poasa is passionate about his rugby and his church.

When Oriental-Rongotai won the Jubilee Cup last year, 39 players including 15 seniors and all four Ories Poasa brothers, were affiliated with the EFKS Ueligitone Christian Congregation Church of Samoa in Owen St Newtown. Another group of players attend the Pacific Islanders’ Presbyterian Church in nearby Daniell Street, Newtown.

These close-knit church communities are key ingredients to Ories’ winning culture and why they are in the mix to defend the Jubilee Cup later this winter

“That is a big part of our club’s community and why we truly believe why we have the successes that we have had over the last couple of years, “Penieli Poasa told Club Rugby this week.

This past Saturday, the Ories skipper ran out on to the Polo Ground to play his 100th Premier match, leading the side to a 45-0 win over Northern United on Old Timers’ Day.

Penieli Poasa playing last weekend in his 100th match. Photo: Chainsaw Photos.

He said it was a big honour, in front of many friends and family, although his parents missed the occasion and they arrived from Samoa on Monday for a church/family event.

Penieli has clear memories of his first Premier game. “That was against Hutt Old Boys Marist late in the 2017 Swindale Shield. I was a reserve and I remember coming on to the Hutt Rec and feeling nervous.”

“I played with my oldest brother Poasa that day, so that sticks out too.” Poasa Poasa was tighthead prop, with Whetu Henry on the loosehead side. Eagles centurion Ben Power was the opposing hooker and Tongan hooker Joe ‘Apikotoa was HOBM’s tighthead that day. A stern introduction to Premier rugby!

It could have been earlier, but for a nasty injury set-back earlier in the year. “In my first year out of school in 2016 I was playing for the Ories Colts team, but I then broke my jaw in a tackle in that pre-season against Norths.”

Penieli made his starting debut at hooker a fortnight later against Johnsonville, in a 34-19 win, and he soon went on to be one of Ories’ first players picked over the next few years.

It is perhaps no surprise what his standout highlight in seven years of Premier rugby to date has been.

“In terms of accolades winning the Jubilee Cup last year is the big one – for our community and our family.

With the Jubilee Cup at the Hutt Rec last year. Photo: Andy McArthur.

“Personally, the biggest thing is putting on the jersey, I think every game for me is a highlight.

Following in the footsteps of many before him, Penieli proudly raised the Jubilee Cup aloft at the Hut Rec last July.

He had also been co-captain the year before with Declan Hay when Ories reeled in a large deficit to win the Hardham Cup on Porirua Park, beating Old Boys University 24-20

Winning this match and final was a catalyst for Ories’ big run last year to win the Jubilee Cup.

“Until then a lot of our players hadn’t won a championship or knew what it felt like. So that was a big trigger for them, even though it wasn’t the major silverware, but coming into the new year into 2023 that was a big shot for us, and we felt going one better and winning the Jubilee was a realistic goal.”

Ories timed their run well – after snaring the eighth and final spot for the Jubilee Cup – beating MSP 25-20, the Upper Hutt Rams 30-27, Johnsonville 39-26 (semi-final) and Paremata-Plimmerton 34-21 (final).

“There was definitely a lot of celebrating afterwards at the clubrooms, but the main thing for me was making sure I made it to church the next day.”

Penieli said that Ories would love nothing else than to win again this year, but the competition is tight.

“The game changes every year, you can never really do the same thing twice, so we are just approaching it game by game and not trying to look too far ahead is the plan and we will see.

“We also have some young players coming through, and they all bring new experiences, new points of views and fresh playing styles, which helps us evolve and to hopefully stay on top.”

Penieli was one of those players who had previous title winning experience prior to 2022’s breakthrough Hardham Cup win – with his St Pat’s Town First XV in 2015.

He was year 13 and hooker in that team that upset top qualifier and unbeaten through 14 games at the time beat Scots College 19-8 in the 2015 Premiership final.

That side had two current Hurricanes players making waves in Super Rugby – Xavier Numia and Billy Proctor.

Loosehead prop Numia and centre Proctor were both year 12s, and both played leading roles that day in securing Town’s then first title since 1995. Numia set up the first try and Proctor scored two tries himself.

“It is awesome to see what they are doing, and I do feel they have a great shot at getting that black jersey.”

The nucleus of that team had come through from winning the U15s title, and also included Penieli’s twin brother Peteli, who came off the bench and went on to captain the Colts side the next year.

Flanker Jack Nelson-Murray was the captain of that 2015 Town First XV and as also a try-scorer in that final.

As well as Penieli, Poasa and Peteli, a fourth brother is involved in the church and club, Ioane.

Penieli was grateful for the experience of playing for the Wellington Lions last year, called in as injury cover and playing eight matches off the bench at hooker.

Needless to say, he is motivated to add to these caps, but for the next while his focus is firmly on club rugby and seeing how far Ories can go in 2024.

This week Ories have got Tawa away. “Tawa is always tough, and that will be a big game. They are similar to the way we play, and their forward pack has lots of experience. They have lost some tight games so that will make them harder.”

Swindale Shield Round 9. Tawa v Oriental-Rongotai, Lyndhurst Park, Saturday 1 June, kick-off 2.15pm.

The teamlists for the 2015 Wellington First XV final.

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