To round out what has been a big year of rugby, Club Rugby has selected its Wellington Team of the Year for 2017, from the men’s and women’s and schools game.
1. Kaliopasi Uluilakepa – Teenaged Fijian prop made an immediate impact playing for the Petone Premiers in 11 appearances at loosehead and tighthead prop, and for the Colts where he dominated and scored two tries in the final against OBU as Petone came back from 3-20 down to win. Hurricanes U18s and Wellington U19s in 2017.
2. Asafo Aumua – Club Rugby’s and the Wellington Rugby Supporter’s Club Player of the Year, Aumua starred for the New Zealand U20s and carried his form through to the Wellington Lions in the NPC. Dominant performances in Wellington’s 60-14 win over Canterbury and 42-26 victory over Taranaki were highlights. Made the All Blacks for their end of year tour. First time Hurricane in 2018.
3. Alex Fidow – Big hearted showing at the U20 World Cup, often used as an impact player of the bench. Returned to play some games for Oriental-Rongotai before turning his attention to the Wellington Lions where he made giant strides. Beat 47 defenders and scored eight tries in the NPC, a 30-metre runaway against Otago a fan favourite.
4. Vaea Fifita – The first time Club Rugby saw what Vaea Fifita was about he scored a 50-metre try off the back of the scrum for the Wellington Axemen against Petone in a Premier Reserve match in 2012 (once of 25 that season).This year the wider rugby world saw him score a similar try playing blindside flanker for the All Blacks against Argentina in New Plymouth. Previously, he missed the first month of the 2017 season due to injury, but bounced back strongly to start 13 games His two-try effort in a 37-27 victory against the Blues in 2016 in Wellington a highlight.
5. Naitoa Ah Kuoi – Joining Marist St Pat’s in 2018 following off-season hip surgery, Ah Kuoi capped off his school career by making the New Zealand Secondary Schools team and playing in the Schools Test win against Australia. A driving force behind the best set-piece in this year’s WelTec Premiership competition.
6. Mateaki Kafatolu – Richly deserved debut for the Wellington Lions after more than 100 games for Petone and several off-seasons playing overseas in Japan, Romania and Sri Lanka. The player they call Mutts slotted in to the Lions and to NPC level like a glove with some assured performances at both blindside and openside flanker, showing up some of the country’s best players.
7. Josh Southall – In July the St Pat’s Silverstream’s openside flanker scored two tries for the Hurricanes U18s against the Crusaders U18s at Westpac Stadium. Hard working defender and tough to put down, Southall was a standout forward for Wellington champions and Hurricanes runners-up St Pat’s Silverstream and was selected for the School Blacks in September. Back at school in 2018.
8. Dhys Faleafaga – The female player of the National Top 4 tournament. Led from the front in both her team’s wins against Auckland’s Southern Cross Campus and Hamilton Girls’ High School. Filled in at second five-eighth against Southern Cross in the semi-final and scored the game’s decisive try in a tough win and starred off the back of the scrum in the final against Hamilton. Wellington Pride debut on the right wing.
9. Kemara Hauiti-Parapara – Big year for the Tawa halfback, winning the U20 World Cup for New Zealand and making his Hurricanes debut against the British and Irish Lions. Returned to club level to for the second half of the Jubilee Cup with Tawa. Played in every match, including six starts at halfback, in his first season for the Wellington Lions.
10. Jackson Garden-Bachop – Returned from a full season playing Super Rugby for the Rebels to be the Wellington Lions Player of the Year. The 23-year-old’s game management and steady goal kicking was a feature. Scored 142 points in the NPC. Has signed with the Hurricanes for next season.
11. Ayesha Leti-l’iga - Scored 25 tries in 12 games for the Oriental-Rongotai women’s team in 2017 – a new single-season club record. This included six hat-tricks and five tries in one round-robin game against OBU and another three in the Victoria Tavern Trophy final over OBU which Ories won 63-8. Still a teenager, she went on to play her third full season for the Wellington Pride, scoring another six tries and looking assured at the next level.
12. Regan Verney – A storming second half of the year for Old Boys University and then for the Wellington Lions. Verney was such a success he became the first midfield back to win the Jim Brown Plate as Player of the Jubilee Cup Final. Verney made a break which directly led to OBU’s third try and sealed the 32-19 victory over Hutt Old Boys Marist. Made 11 NPC appearances for the Lions, including seven starts at second five-eighth. Wellington Lions Rookie of the Year. Chiefs squad in 2018.
13. Thomas Umaga-Jensen – The New Zealand U20s midfielder returned from Dunedin to the Wellington Lions squad for the start of the NPC. An injury to Wes Goosen created an opening for Umaga-Jensen and he made the most of it, producing a succession of slick, confident performances at 12 and 13 and alongside Goosen when the latter returned. Four tries in the last four games, including one in the 59-45 NPC final win over BoP.
14. Mike Buckley – Another outstanding season for Marist St Pat’s, mostly on the left wing but for the purposes of this team the right wing, scoring 14 tries in 21 games (32 in 49 games overall). What those statistics don’t show is the manner of many of these tries, the former Napier Boys’ High School Top 4 winner scoring several stunning and spectacular individual efforts.
15. Andrew Wells – Returned from a stint in France to play a full season at fullback for Marist St Pat’s and later two matches in the NPC for the Wellington Lions. Scored 178 points and nine tries for MSP in 2017, including a match haul of 28 in their 33-27 Jubilee Cup win over HOBM.
16. Sitiveni Paongo – Tawa’s prop turned hooker seemingly never has a bad game in 2017, playing every Premier match for his club, mostly at loosehead prop, and then playing in his debut provincial season for the Wellington Lions in the NPC at hooker, alongside club teammate Tolu Fahamokioa.
17. Angel Uila -Wellington Pride Rookie of the Year for 2017 and a key cog playing games at both loosehead and tighthead prop and No. 8 of Petone’s Women’s success that saw them win the Division 2 title in their first year back, scoring a popular try in the final against Paremata-Plimmerton. Three tries in six appearances at prop for the Wellington Pride.
18. Hemi Fermanis – Tawa’s Hemi Fermanis typifies his club’s current success. Hard-working, fit and motivated on the track and humble off the field, his consistent form saw him jointly win the 2017 Best & Fairest competition with Ben Tupuola (Wainuiomata). Mainly a lock, but also effective at flanker.
19. Will Mangos – Quietly spoken off the field, whole-hearted on it. Shrugging off injuries and ailments to have a big second half of the year, helping Old Boys University win the Jubilee Cup and then 10 appearances for the Wellington Lions, including several starts at lock and flanker.
20. TJ Perenara – Ended the Super Rugby season on 96 caps for the Hurricanes, and scorer of 44 Super Rugby tries. Captained the Hurricanes for much of the season, in the absence of Dane Coles. Fourth season with the All Blacks and led the haka against the British & Irish Lions, making 14 appearances in black in 2017.
21. Ana Puleiata – Match-clinching tries in both the Wellington and National finals for St Mary’s College, playing centre. Speed off the mark and strength make her hard to put down and also a strong defender with openside flanker qualities. If she is not lost to netball she has a big future in the women’s game.
22. Losi Filipo - Noted comeback in 2017 following the negative press surrounding him in 2016. Power and pace on the wing, once he’s in space he’s gone. Four caps for the Wellington Lions in the NPC, including two starts on the left wing.