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The survivorsí XV

Swindale Shield | 03 January 2019 | Club Rugby

The survivorsí XV

Above: Poneke's Ben Huntley tussles with Ories' Paulo Aukuso in 2009.

In recent years Premier rugby has increasingly become a young man’s game, with more players making the jump from their school first XVs to the cauldron of club rugby in the space of one or two seasons and fewer players staying in the game for longer.

Heading into the start of the new season, we take a look at the Club Rugby ‘survivors’ team of 2018 – the longest-serving players that laced up the boots and played Premier Rugby last season. Club Rugby hopes many of these players return to the top echelon of the club game again this season.

As always, the closer to the action the more likely a player is to keep playing, which in part reflects the need for older front rowers to stay in the game and also the shorter lifespan of outside backs who in turn might start life on the wing but move in to the midfield over time. The team below reflects both those scenarios.

It is also worth noting that two players in the team below - Shane Hedges (Paremata-Plimmerton) and Cameron Cross (Avalon Wolves) – have a significant number of appearances with their clubs top team outside of the Premier grade.

Two players technically eligible for this team, but not selected, are Chris Molenaar and Daniel Farani, who both made fleeting appearances off the bench for the Petone and Wainuiomata teams they are involved in coaching.

Other players that have top team appearances going back to the last decade still involved in Premier Rugby include current Poneke and former Wests and Johnsonville flanker Galu Taufale, Upper Hutt and Norths loose forward (and part-time midfielder) Josh Hunt, midfielders Ryan Setefano (MSP) and Perry Hayman (Norths), Johnsonville duo Hemi Remuera and Dane Robertson, and Paremata-Plimmerton’s Blake Neve.

Yet more long-serving players were also still playing Premier Reserves last season, a group that included Roy Kinikinilau for Ories (Premier debut 2002) and Peato Lafaele for Norths (Premier debut late 1990s, for Poneke), while 200-game HOBM halfback Nick Risdon found time for a couple of Premier outings while playing a major role in the clubs First Grade side’s unbeaten season.

Similarly, Tawa’s 250-game veteran Etuale ‘Junior’ Togia was seen playing sevens for his club late last year while another Paremata-Plimmerton veteran in Ryan McLean returned to Premier rugby in a different capacity, having made the move into refereeing and debuting in the top-flight at the end of last season.

1. Simon Malaeulu
Club: Hutt Old Boys Marist
Club Rugby website debut: 2007 Swindale Shield Round 5 v Old Boys University
Premier appearances in 2018: 4
Has won Jubilee Cups with Hutt Old Boys Marist in 2007 and 2014, but perhaps his greatest achievement for the Eagles was returning late last season to play his 200th Premier match after suffering a heart attack after HOBM’s win over Wellington in April. A former St Pat’s Silverstream player and Wellington U18 captain, Malaeulu played his 100th game against Ories in 2012.

2. Eugene Smith
Club: Petone
Premier appearances in 2018: 4
Club Rugby website debut: 2005 Swindale Shield Round 5 v Johnsonville
The hooker had to bide his time last year to reach the milestone of 200 Premier games for Petone, after breaking his foot playing for the Premier Reserves earlier in the year while just two short of the mark. Returned at the end of the season and then won the Hardham Cup early August. Made his Premier debut for Petone in 2001 and won the Jubilee Cup with them in 2005 and the Swindale Shield in 2004 and 2009 (shared with Norths). Former Petone captain and involved with the Wellington U19 coaching set-up in 2018.

RLM

3. Justin Va’a
Clubs: Upper Hutt and Wainuiomata
Premier appearances in 2018: 4
Club Rugby website debut: 2005 Swindale Shield Round 3 v Northern United (for Upper Hutt)
Started at Wainuiomata and then was Upper Hutt’s tighthead prop when they won the Swindale Shield in 2005. Headed overseas to London Wasps and onto Glasgow, also playing internationals for Samoa before returning home to Wainuiomata in 2010 and reached 100 games for them in 2012. Well over 200 Premier games combined in Wellington club rugby.

4. Api Naikatini
Clubs: Northern United and Johnsonville
Premier appearances in 2018: 16
Club Rugby website debut: 2005 Swindale Shield Round 3 v Marist St Pat’s (for Nothern United)
Followed in the footsteps of older brother Illeki ‘Nails’ Naikatini at Northern United and quickly impressed with his all-round dynamic play for the 2006, 2008 (shared with MSP) and 2010 Jubilee Cup champions. Two seasons in the Hurricanes squad in 2011-12, four years playing in France and Japan and 18 international caps for Fiji. Returned to Wellington to play for Johnsonville in 2018.

5. Kane Thompson
Clubs: Wests Roosters and Johnsonville
Premier appearances in 2018: 14
Club Rugby website debut: 2005 Swindale Shield Round 3 v Tawa (for Wests Roosters)
Left school at Wellington College at the turn of the century and started rugby life at Ian Galloway Park for Wests, before professional rugby stints with numerous teams including Super Rugby sides the Highlanders and the Chiefs and clubs in France and England. Capped 33 times for Samoa in internationals. Joined Johnsonville in 2017 as player-coach and a Taranaki contracted player in 2017-2018.

6. Faifili Levave
Club: Northern United
Premier appearances in 2018: 5
Club Rugby website debut: 2005 Swindale Shield Round 9 v Johnsonville
Out of St Pat’s Town, Levave first played for the Norths Premiers between 2004-07, and made his Wellington debut aged 19, before a season with the Chiefs and Waikato in 2008. Returned to Wellington and the Hurricanes for 67 caps 2010-14 before three seasons playing in Japan. Capped 17 times for Samoa. Returned to Norths to play in the 2018 Jubilee Cup and won a runners-up medal.

7. Shane Hedges
Club: Paremata-Plimmerton
Premier appearances in 2018: 19
Club Rugby website debut: 2014 Hardham Cup Round 1 v Wellington Axemen
Don’t let the relatively recent date above fool you, with Hedges having been running around for the Ngati Toa side since 2008. Back then Pare-Plim were in the old Senior 2 competition, making the Tawa College product the only person on this list to have played for his clubs top team in three different grades. Immediately recognisable with his small wiry stature, headgear, and socks down, Hedges has never been on the representative radar but makes this list as one club rugby’s real battlers.

8. Peniasi Tokakece
Clubs: Marist St Pat’s and Tawa
Premier appearances in 2018: 6
Club Rugby website debut: 2005 Swindale Shield Round 1 v Poneke (for Marist St Pat’s)
Joined Marist St Pat’s after three years in the St Pat’s Silverstream First XV 1999-01. Stints playing for MSP, in the Hawke’s Bay, in Fiji and Palmerston North followed. Then played in Germany and Sri Lanka. Back to MSP in 2015 and then Tawa between 2016-18.

9. Tomasi Palu
Clubs: Northern United and Old Boys University
Premier appearances in 2018: 11
Club Rugby website debut: 2005 Swindale Shield Round 5 v Upper Hutt (for OBU)
Started and finished his playing career at Old Boys University, whom he played his 100th Premier game for in 2017. In between he played for Norths variously between 2008-13 and spent a season playing in Otago while playing three tests for Tonga and coming off the bench in their 19-14 win over France at the World Cup at the Westpac Stadium in 2011. Injury forced him to hang up his boots mid-away through last season but has already moved into the coaching ranks.

10. Fa’atonu Fili
Clubs: Marist St Pat’s and Oriental-Rongotai
Premier appearances in 2018: 5
Club Rugby website debut: 2005 Swindale Shield Round 1 v Poneke (for MSP)
The King of Evans Bay Park has been playing for MSP since 2001 apart from one spell at Oriental-Rongotai in 2013 and some time overseas in both Australia and Sri Lanka. Five Jubilee Cup titles to his name, in 2001, 2002, 2008 (shared with Norths), 2009 and 2012. Played his 150th match for MSP in 2014 and his 200th match overall in Wellington club rugby in 2016. Has played in numerous representative teams, including Samoa, where he was a member of the 2003 RWC squad, for Wellington in 2009, 2010 and 2014. Kept himself busy in 2018 by helping MSP to the Premier Reserve title double while also playing for the Premiers and assisting on the coaching side of matters.

11. Daley Harper
Club: Northern United
Premier appearances in 2018: 7
Club Rugby website debut: 2006 Swindale Shield Round 1 v Oriental-Rongotai
Returned to Norths from several seasons in Australia last year and played his 100th game. A utility back, he is on the wing for the purposes of this team. Jubilee Cup winner in 2006, 2008 and 2010 an d runner-up last year, and a regular in the Wellington Maori side.

12. Jeff Makapelu
Clubs: Tawa, Paremata-Plimmerton and Johnsonville
Premier appearances in 2018: 18
Club Rugby website debut: 2006 Swindale Shield Round 3 v Upper Hutt (for Tawa)
The former Bishop Viard College midfielder plied his trade for several seasons at Lyndhurst Park and won all the silverware on offer with Tawa in 2013 before stints with Johnsonville, Paremata-Plimmerton and back to the Hawks last year.

13. Paulo Aukuso
Club: Oriental-Rongotai
Premier appearances in 2018: 4
Club Rugby website debut: 2005 Swindale Shield Round 1 v Old Boys University
Compared to his elder contemporary Ma’a Nonu in his youth, Aukuso was a member of the side that won the 2011 Jubilee Cup and lost to MSP and Tawa in the 2012 and 2013 finals. A couple of stints overseas but has been playing for Ories continuously since leaving the halls of Rongotai College, and became the Magpies’ all-time leader in Premier games played last season. Both Makepelu and Aukuso have also fronted many times for the Wellington Samoans

14. Ben Huntley
Club: Poneke
Premier appearances in 2018: 17
Club Rugby website debut: 2008 Swindale Shield Round 4 v Wainuiomata
Predominantly a midfielder these days, the former Poneke junior played his 150th match in 2017, like Aukuso is another former Rongotai College student approaching the coveted 200-game club.

15. Cameron Cross
Club: Avalon
Premier appearances in 2018: 9
Club Rugby website debut: 2005 Swindale Shield Round 1 v Wests Roosters
Well into his second decade of near-continuous service to the Avalon Wolves, Cross started his career at first five-eighth before moving to halfback and switching between the two positions. Latterly a fullback as well, the much-respected Cross was an Avalon junior and attended Naenae College.

RESERVES

16. Henry Smith
Clubs: Northern United and Wainuiomata
Premier appearances in 2018: 14
Club Rugby website debut: 2005 Swindale Shield Round 9 v Johnsonville (for Norths)
Part of Northern United’s championship winning 2003, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2010 and 2011 Swindale Shield teams and 2004, 2006, 2008 and 2010 (as captain) Jubilee Cup sides, Smith retired at the end of 2014, but returned in 2017 for Wainuiomata. The courier driver was still delivering in 2018.

17. Whetu Henry
Club: Oriental-Rongotai
Premier Appearances in 2018: 19
Club Rugby website debut: 2007 Swindale Shield Round 1 v Upper Hutt
The “Don” of the Polo Ground, the Ories and former Wellington Lions prop ended 2018 on the cusp of 200 Premier games. An inspiration to his side, he has captained the Magpies since 2013. In 2011 Henry played every match for Ories except the Jubilee Cup final (which they won) owing to injury. Unfinished business in 2019?

18. Chris Middleton
Club: Northern United
Premier Appearances in 2018: 12
Club Rugby website debut: 2006 Swindale Shield Round 7 v Petone
Debut season in 2006 out of Wellington College and also in NZ U19s that year. A stint in the Waikato followed, before joining the fire service and returning home and to Norths last season where he played in his second Jubilee Cup final last year a decade after his first. Will he be back in 2019 to smoke out another Jubilee Cup title?

19. Mateaki Kafatolu
Club: Petone
Premier appearances in 2018: 7
Club Rugby website debut: 2008 Swindale Shield Round 8 v Upper Hutt
Won the Best & Fairest Billy Wallace competition in his second season in 2009 and then had to wait another several seasons to make his Wellington Lions debut. The player they call Mutts now has two NPC campaigns in his engine and remains one of the hardest tacklers in the local game. He has also played rugby overseas in three countries; Japan, Romania and Sri Lanka.

20. Damien Madsen
Clubs: Johnsonville, Tawa, Upper Hutt and Avalon
Premier appearances in 2018: 10
Club rugby website debut: 2006 Swindale Shield Round 1 v Wests Roosters (for Johnsonville).
Much travelled with four clubs on his log since starting at Johnsonville in 2006. The stout halfback spent 2007-10 at Tawa and 2011 at Upper Hutt before re-emerging at his current home at Avalon in 2014. Has also filled in at 10 in addition to his usual position around the scrum.

21. Nua Fono-Hunt
Club: Upper Hutt Rams
Premier appearances in 2018: 16
Club Rugby website debut: 2006 Swindale Shield Round 1 v Old Boys University
Joined the then Swindale Shield champions in 2006 and has been a mainstay at his home club ever since, barring an injury layoff in 2016 when he tore his ACL while on Wellington Sevens duty. Fono-Hunt has covered most spots in the backline in his career but first five-eighth is his most frequent position. A former Rams sevens captain as well.

22. Jared Kahu
Club: Petone
Premier appearances in 2018: 4
Club Rugby website debut: 2007 Swindale Shield Round 1 v Northern United
Utility back Kahu’s career has alternated between halfback, first five-eighth and fullback over more than a decade of Premier rugby, interrupted by a season playing rugby league for the Brisbane Broncos U20s in 2008. Made various rugby representative squads and made one NPC appearance for the Lions in 2014. Brother Jordan plays in the NRL for the Broncos and has played for the Kiwis.

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