Sitiveni Paongo has bloomed into a promising prospect this season. The Tawa prop has just been named in the Wellington Under-19 squad and has been a regular starter for the Tawa Premiers who are hoping to make the semi-finals this Saturday when they take on the Upper Hutt Rams at Maidstone Park.
"I am a bit surprised I have started so many games, but it's been a great challenge and privilege playing with and against older players," Paongo says.
He’s played 17 out of a possible 19 matches this year, including six straight starts at loosehead prop in the second round Bucqui Jubilee Cup competition.
Paongo is a Tawa junior, but attended Wellington College where he spent the 2014 and 2015 seasons in the First XV. Wellington College wasn't entirely successful in those years, failing to defend their Premier One title in 2014 and relinquishing their 13 year vice on the Quadrangular crown in 2015.
"I believe to succeed in life you have to get up from failure. I learned a lot at Wellington College. Mr Rawles [co-coach] taught me how to be a prop. I only started playing prop in Year 12. Mr Sharland [co-coach] taught me about game plans and how rugby is more than just running and tackling," Paongo says.
The fear of failure has been the driving force behind Tawa's recent resurgence in the Jubilee Cup. After three consecutive defeats Tawa appeared to have no chance of reaching the semi-finals. However three wins on the trot has propelled Tawa to fourth and they will advance with a win against the Upper Hutt Rams this Saturday.
"There has been a 'do or die' feeling in the dressing room in the last three weeks. Most games come down to who wants it more and we have all been really committed lately. I like playing 'do or die' rugby," Paongo says.
Last Saturday Tawa beat defending champions Old Boys University 38-20. Tawa outscored the students five tries to three and Randall Bishop scored 18 points. Paongo explains Tawa wanted to bully OBU.
"OBU is a very smart team that likes to play at pace. We wanted to play hard and direct knowing they had a few injuries."
Tawa had to be abrasive to overcome Wainuiomata at the Westpac Stadium in Round 4.
"It was great to play on the stadium and win such an important game. That win gave us lots of confidence," Paongo says.
Tawa prevailed 29-15 and Bishop again scored heavily collecting 14 points.
In the Swindale Shield Tawa finished sixth with an 8-5 record, but faced elimination if they lost to Norths in the last round on a day celebrating the life of Jerry Collins.
"The Norths game was probably our best performance of the season. The boys really got up for it and played some great rugby. It was pretty special. I think I went pretty well that day," Paongo enthuses.
Tawa have effectively won four elimination games. Upper Hutt stands between Tawa and the semi-finals. The Rams have dropped their last two games, surely Tawa will get through?
"It's a tough competition, anybody can beat anybody. We lost to Upper Hutt the last time we played them so we are taking nothing for granted," Paongo says.
The Rams beat Tawa 20-15 under lights at neutral Fraser Park in the first round, Paongo’s former Wellington College teammate Kemara Hauiti-Parapara scoring 10 points in the defeat.
Paongo identifies MSP, Ories and Poneke who have all beaten Tawa as the toughest sides to play this season while marking Whetu Henry and Hurricane Jeff Toomaga-Allen were considerable challenges.
On the subject of challenges Wellington won the inaugural National under-19 tourney in 2014, but bombed last year. What is Paongo's early impressions of the 2016 team?
"I think it will be a very competitive side. There are a lot of X factor players so I think we could do well.
Away from rugby Paongo studies criminology and psychology at Victoria University and enjoys spending time in with his family and church.