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Popoalii helps spark Norths to a 24-5 Jubilee Cup final win over Poneke

Jubilee Cup Premier | 15 August 2010 | Steven White

Popoalii helps spark Norths to a 24-5 Jubilee Cup final win over Poneke

Two electric Buxton Popoalii tries and committed second half defence carried Northern United to their fourth Jubilee Cup title in the final against Poneke at Westpac Stadium on Sunday afternoon.

Popoalii scored two of Norths' first three tries that saw them race to a match winning 19-0 lead early in the second spell, ahead of an exhaustive Norths defensive effort for much of the rest of the final which restricted Poneke to just one try.

After scoring the game's first try in the 10th minute, Popoaii added his second early in the second half, ahead of a Poneke try to captain and No. 8 Misipalauni Moananu and comeback over the next 20 minutes.

But Poneke, the only side to have beaten Norths all year when they won 17-15 eight weeks ago, couldn't convert pressure into points as Norths held them off.

Their challenge effectively ended 10 minutes from fulltime through one of many Norths breakdown turnovers deep inside their own territory and a relieving touchfinder back up towards halfway.

As Norths have done all season, they closed the match out in style. Standout blindside flanker Parekura Lalaga ran on to a stab kick into Poneke's in-goal, fittingly by Popoalii, and scored their fourth try to seal the 24-5 win.

As well as Popoalii, lock Eldon Paea, loose forwards Lalaga and Dean Brunsdon and replacement hooker Aiden Cains were all big contributors for the winning side. Norths halfback TJ Perenara was awarded the Jim Brown Medal as the Player of the Final.

For Poneke, No. 8 Moananu, his brother and prop Misiluni Moananu, lock Presley Tufaga and flanker Ally Paine headed a valiant effort, while hooker Dane Coles continually threw his body at Norths' line in the frantic period midway through the second half in which Poneke were awarded a succession of penalties in front of the tryline.

In an open paced final, Poneke's backs were always positive, but despite the best efforts of halfback Ruki Tipuna and first five-eighth Jeremy Te Huia they lacked penetration and a game breaker in the midfield.

The Jubilee Cup win for Norths is their fourth since their first in 2004, and follows victories every second year since in 2006 and 2008 (shared with MSP) and now 2010. It is their ninth Wellington championship title since their breakthrough Swindale Shield win in 2003.

RLM

Norths emulated their own 2006 side and MSP's in 2008 in capturing the Swindale Shield - Jubilee Cup double in the same season and ended 2010 with an 17-win, one -loss and two-drawn record. Popoalii ended the year with a season record 23 tries and So'oialo finished with 281 points.

For Poneke, the Jubilee Cup heartbreak continues, having last won the Jubilee Cup in 2003 when they beat MSP 22-18 in the final. This was their sixth final in the past 11 years and their third final defeat to Norths after losses in 2004 (18-20) and 2006 (12-25). For the second year in succession, they were top qualifiers in the round- robin and went through the previous eight weeks leading up to the final unbeaten.

A vocal contingent of supporters from both sides lined the eastern side of the ground on a cloudy but dry afternoon as the final got off to a fast and furious start.

With the southerly behind them, Poneke had the better of the opening exchanges but second five-eighth Sam Rasch failed to turn successive penalty opportunities from 25 metres and 41 metres out into points.

Instead it was Norths who took full toll of their early opportunities, with their forwards bursting into the attacking zone and setting up a ruck in prime position inside the 22. The ball was spun to Popoalii who put the afterburners on and skipped through the twin tackles of Poneke lock Tufaga and left winger Ambrose Plaister for the opening try. Dead-eye kicker James So'oialo nailed the conversion and Norths led 7-0 after 10 minutes.

Norths were unlucky not to cross again after more pressure and continuity of passing between backs and forwards and centre Alaptati Leuia went dangerously close to finishing off the movement.

Poneke regrouped and they answered in kind when left winger Plaister scorched through a midfield hole and Coles put in a kick and chase that forced a 5-metre scrum. No. 8 Moananu and halfback Tipuna ran from the base and the tight-five drove at the line. But in a taste of the second half, Norths' pack held them out and won a relieving penalty.

With half an hour gone, Norths still led 7-0, before No. 8 Brunsdon put in a powerful surge up over halfway off the back of a scrum that created impetus for their second try that followed.

First five-eighth David Palu stabbed a kick into the corner, leading to a Poneke error at the lineout and an attacking throw to Norths. Norths ripped play through their backs and left wing AJ Va'aleepu would have scored a try if not for a Poneke hand tipping the final pass forward.

Now with another scrum put-in, Norths spread play the other way to right winger So'oilao, who busted through weak Poneke defence to score their second try in the right hand corner. He wasn't able to convert his own try, but Norths now had a 12-0 ahead with several minutes until halftime.

So'oialo missed an ambitious penalty from 49-metres out in the only other chance for either side before the break.

Now playing into the wind, Poneke knew they had to score first to stay in touch, but instead it was Norths who landed a decisive blow in the 44th minute and it was that man Popoalii who struck it. Again, Brunsdon provided the initial thrust from a strong run from a ruck 40 metres out. Norths quickly recycled and halfback Perenara launched a lovely pass out to Popoalii who motored through a hole and exchanged passes with Leuia before scoring the try himself. Points scoring machine So'oilao kicked the extras and at 19-0 behind, Poneke had a lot of work to do.

But guts and adversity are bywords of Poneke, and they hit back almost from the re-start when they rumbled the ball up into the 22 and skipper Moananu scored in the corner. Rasch couldn't add the extras from the sideline and the score remained 19-5 with over half an hour to play.

The red and blacks threw everything at Norths over the next 20 minutes but time and again Norths' forwards muscled up, their midfield made their tackles and turnovers were won. Rasch missed his third penalty from 40 metres out in the 55th minute, but Poneke's best chance came in an ensuing five minute period when they were awarded a succession of penalties in front of the line but were out muscled up front.

Against the run of play in the 60th minute, Norths almost wrapped it up there and then when Lalaga stripped the ball from a Poneke player and hacked ahead for replacement winger Nene Va'aleepu who regathered and was away - only to be called back for offside play.

It didn't matter though, as Lalaga galloped in towards the end after more hard work had been done to seal the win to complete a remarkable season for Norths, who in 20 matches scored 123 tries and 819 points.

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