Three-peat: Eels win Super 9 again in thriller
The Vaimauga Eels have won their third successive final over the A'ana Chiefs, and thus their third successive P.P.S. Super 9 Senior A title.
They defeated the Chiefs 24-23 at A.C.P. Marist Stadium on Saturday, to ensure they remain the only side to have ever lifted the La'auli Alan Grey Cup as Super 9 champions in the three years it has been contested.
The Isuzu A'ana Chiefs were never going to make it easy for them though, and they opened the scoring early through fullback Tuna Tuitama's try after some tidy play down the sideline.
However the Taula Eels replied soon after with a try to Dennis Maresa, locking the scores at 7-7.
The Chiefs were keen to get the ball wide right from the outset, and they played at a tempo the Eels struggled to match in the early period of the game.
They found themselves with a huge overlap, and captain Afa Aiono went over to give his side a five point lead.
Both sides had chances to score over the remainder of the first half, which was played at a frantic pace.
However errors meant neither side could improve their position before the break.
After around eight minutes of play in the second, the Chiefs won a penalty on the Eels' 22 metre line.
Second five Joyner Key converted to put his side two scores clear at 7-15.
Then wing Taunuu Niulevaea made a break and set up flanker Elia Tolufale to score and extend the lead to 13 points.
It was at this point the Eels stepped it up a notch and showed their championship class.
Needing tries, they began to play with more width and freedom, and flanker Itifusi Matamu made a break before passing inside to lock Steve Tuiuli, who grunted his way over the line through a heap of bodies.
Aiono received a yellow card on the play, and the Eels were now just six points down and a man up.
They took advantage in the scrum with two pushover tries for number eight Fagu Malloy, which (with a successful Joyner Key penalty sandwiched in between) made it 24-23 with five minutes remaining.
In the final minute of play, Key missed two presentable chances to kick the winning penalty goal, including one with the very last act of the game.
Chiefs manager Taito Louis Lene said his team were gutted.
“I can’t find the words.
“That was really, really close but… I can’t believe it
He said they came to win, and put themselves in position to do so.
“It was just the bounce of the ball.
“We still believe we absolutely could have won, we were good enough to win the game.
“It wasn’t to be."
Taito congratulated the Eels, and said their experience saw them through.
“They’ve been doing this for a long time… they know how to control the game.
“Our defence didn’t come up in that second half, we defended so well in the first."
He said it would have been an amazing game for the crowd.
“That was a spectacle, the sort of game everybody wants to see."
Eels head coach So'oalo Fono Pitoitua said it was a pretty close game, and his team were off their best in the first half.
“We had a lot of mistakes, we were trying to rush things."
He said they told the players to maintain control of possession at halftime, and they responded.
So'oalo said they were able to take advantage when opportunities arose, and could've had further tries with more patience.
“The yellow card was crucial for us because we knew we outnumbered them, so we tried to keep the pressure on."
He thanked the Lord for blessing the team.
“This is the third year in a row, it’s a big achievement for us and we worked really hard for it."
So'oalo said it wasn't just down to the 23 players but the sponsors, families, supporters and everyone else involved behind the scenes.
“This is their win, it’s everything around the team."
Eels fullback Malu Falaniko was named overall M.V.P. of the Super 9 Senior A competition.
Earlier in the afternoon, the Under 20s division was also won by the Eels after an 8-3 win over the Navigators, with Eels lock Miracle Failagi being awarded overall tournament M.V.P.
Senior A final:
Eels 24 (Dennis Maresa, Steve Tuiuli, Fagu Malloy 2 tries, Malu Falaniko 2/4 con, 0/2 pens)
Chiefs 23 (Tuna Tuitama, Afa Aiono, Elia Tolufale tries, Joyner Key 1/3 cons, 2/4 pens)
Under 20 final:
Eels 8 (Tonu Eneliko try; Henry Wulf 1/2 pens, 0/1 con)
Navigators 3 (Troy Rimoni 1/2 pens)