Swindale Shield | 21 March 2016 | Steven White – ClubRugby.co.nz
The pre-season is over, preparations are nearly complete and Wellington’s Premier and Premier Reserve players and supporters from Miramar to Mana now await the start of the new of rugby club rugby season, which gets underway this coming Good Friday with a full round of Swindale Shield and Harper Lock Shield matches.
Among them is Junior Togia, who will be lacing up his boots for his 18th straight season of Premier rugby for Tawa.
Togia made his debut for the Tawa Premiers in 1999, a year after leaving Tawa College and – according to this website’s database – he has played 231 Premier matches, which means if he plays a full season he will join the exclusive 250 club.
Togia told Club Rugby that there’s a buoyant mood at Tawa heading into their 2016 Swindale Shield opener against the Wellington Axemen at home this coming Friday.
“As always in pre-season, it’s been that hard slog in the sun,” he said. “There’s generally a good feeling though and we had quite a good result against Marist St Pat’s in our last pre-season game on Saturday.
“But I tell you what, it’s getting hard to keep up with the young guys!”
These young players include (among others) last year’s New Zealand Schools halfback Kemera Hauiti-Parapara, New Zealand U20s trialist and centre Pepesana Patafilo, midfielder Elijah Va’a-Brooking From Tawa College, flyhalf/fullback Paul Bickle from St Pat’s Town, prop/hooker Ben Aumua-Peseta from St Pat’s Town, prop/hooker Sitiveni Paongo from Wellington College and loose forward Folau Vea from Tawa College.
“We’ve got the Wellington College influence coming in, and then we have a winger who has come out of Tawa with some wheels and reminds me of myself back in the day although he can pass from both sides!
“There are also quite a few young guys like Sharn Robinson and Bradd Forster, who have been involved the last couple of years and are coming through.”
As reported on Club Rugby last week, James So’oialo lines up for the Wellington Axemen this year.
Experienced midfielder and former Super Rugby player Tu Umaga-Marshall leaves Tawa’s stable this year and returns to Wainuiomata’s ranks.
Wellington Lions midfielder Shaun Treeby is still rehabbing after breaking his ankle for the Wellington Lions against Tasman last September. His loss was keenly felt by the Lions, but Tawa are hoping to have him back by the middle of the first round.
In the forwards, inspirational prop Taniela Koroi now plys his trade in Italy and dynamic lock/flanker Telea Seumanutafa has recently been picked up by the Samoan Sevens team so his availability is dependent on his international commitments.
Hooker Matthew Treeby and lock Pati Gaualofa are likely to be Tawa’s co-captains this year.
Togia might be the wise old head in Tawa’s backline, but many of his contemporaries are still involved off the field.
“I think everyone that I played with in my early days has moved on to coaching now, and I am still here left to carry the load,” he joked.
Former teammate Willie Lafaele is now one of Tawa’s coaches. “It’s a bit strange because I’m sort of used to him giving me the ball to finish up. He knows that I like to stand on the wing and not do a lot so I will now have to get into the middle of the field and do some work!”
Togia spent his first five seasons playing on the wing for Tawa, but he has managed to play in every back line position, except halfback.
“At the moment I am playing first five-eighth and fullback. I generally play where they want me to and I’m waiting for Willie to put me in at halfback.”
He points to 2013 when Tawa won the Swndale Shield-Jubilee Cup double as an obvious career highlight.
“I think we came eighth or something in the Jubilee Cup in 2012 and it was basically just a bunch of guys that decided to do the hard graft in October and November. Then more guys jumped on board and together we went all the way and won everything. So it didn’t really come down to one person, it was more just the culture at the club.”
This year’s Swindale Shield sees 13 matches in 11 weeks, including seven matches in April alone. How is the club preparing for this?
“A way of preparing for this is that we are training as a club rather than a team. So our Tuesday-Wednesday-Thursday sessions are all done together and we keep one system across the three grades. Then come Thursday whoever gets selected for each team comes and works hard for that team that weekend.
“Our depth will be tested, but hopefully the guys we have been training with in pre-season should be up to it and I’m sure they will be.”
With the average age of Premier players creeping down and fewer guys staying longer in the game, the contribution of players like Junior is immense.
Will this be Junior’s last season in Premier rugby?
“The only reason I keep coming back is to help out those younger guys that are coming through. As long as the body is as willing as my mind I’ll be there. My eldest kid is faster than me now so that says a lot!”
Watch this space.
Swindale Shield Round One Friday 25 March (all games kick-off at 2.45pm):
· Tawa v Wellington Axemen at Lyndhurst Park
· Avalon Wolves v Oriental-Rongotai at Fraser Park
· Johnsonville v Hutt Old Boys Marist at Helston Park
· Marist St Pat’s v Paremata-Plimmerton at Evans Bay Park
· Northern United v Petone at Jerry Collins Stadium
· Upper Hutt Rams v Old Boys University at Maidstone Park
· Wainuiomata v Poneke at William Jones Park