Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television
since 1987

Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television
since 1987

Faletoi Peni stars as Manukau Rovers go back to back as Gallaher Shield champions

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

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Neueli Mauafu | Reporter

The Manukau Rovers are the 2023 Gallaher Shield champions going back to back in a hard fought 20-14 win against rivals Auckland University.

Held at the Waitemata Park grounds, the undefeated Rovers went into the match as the favourites in what was a top class season performance. Having lifted the shield last year in a tight face off with Ponsonby Rugby, the Rovers were looking to complete a back to back defence of the shield.

The victory is the club’s fourth in its history, with last year’s title being their first in 49 years.

However Rovers were made to fight for the win in what seemed to be their first big test of the season. After terrorising their opponents this year with their effective set pieces, Rovers forward pack found themselves struggling to complete their scrums and lineouts. It seemed to be University’s game plan set out by head coach Jason McLean.

Photo: @newisrael_designs

University’s continuous pressure resulted in the final’s first try in the 16th minute coming through forward Nathan Harris crossing the line with first five Christian Stenhouse adding the extras for an early 7–0 lead. Rovers responded with second five Faletoi Peni orchestrating some beautiful passing skills on display to help lock Fano Funaki touch down in the corner. Peni failed to convert putting the Rovers behind 7-5 at the stroke of half time.

Just how they started the first half, University opened the try scoring with star backrower Uini Fetalaiga touching down near the posts. A successful conversion extended their lead to 14-5. For most part of the second half both teams struggled to get anything going failing to capitalise on try scoring opportunities. 

Rovers began to feel a momentum shift, with their bench making a needed impact on the field. This impact finally led to Rovers second try with fullback Simon Peter Toleafoa diving in the corner. Peni missed the conversion but the scoreline gap was now closed to a smaller deficit with University leading 14-10.

Photo: @howtojared

With only five minutes left in the match and University looking likely to steal the match, Peni once again delivered this time barging over under the posts for an amazing individual brilliance try. The second five brushed past three defenders showing his pure strength and silky footwork. Converting his own try and giving his side the lead for the first time, Peni slotted another three pointer in the dying stages of the match pushing their lead to 20-14.

As University were giving their all in the last seconds of the match hoping for a miracle outcome, it was Peni yet again who came up with a big shot that forced a University error as the match came to end.Peni, who is no stranger to clutch moments was also instrumental in last year’s grand final win over Ponsonby, slotting in the winning penalty at the stroke of the full time hooter. With the ITM Cup almost beginning for this year, Peni should be an all time favourite to be picked up by a club.

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