Vaimauga Eels win Hawai'i tournament
The Taula Vaimauga Eels recovered from a first-up loss to Petone to beat them in the final and win their first Waikiki 10s title earlier this month.
“In the first game we tried to play an expansive game, and at the end we ran out of breath, we couldn’t match the fitness of the New Zealand team," said Eels coach So'oalo Fono Pitoitua of his team's 17-12 loss to the Wellington club.
He said the Eels used their strength up front to win the final of the four team tournament, which also featured Kahili Raiders (Hawai’i), and Deadwood Rugby Club (Australia).
So'oalo said his side are the first Samoan team to win the Waikiki 10s, and it was good for them to go against the different styles offered by those teams from other countries.
“It’s good exposure for the boys, our local team to be exposed to an international tournament," he said.
The Eels won just shy of $40,000 tala for their efforts with some of that prize money going to the club for costs and the rest divided among the players.
However around the time the team returned from their tour, one of the Eels starlets Joseph Une passed away after a car crash back home in Samoa.
So'oalo said he had been down to travel to Hawai'i with the team, but pulled out the week before they applied for their visas.
The coach said 21-year-old Une was one of the "babies" of the team, a developing player they had big plans for in 2020.
“It’s very hard for us, especially the family of Joseph and also the whole team," he said.
Une was among the Eels players training for Samoa representative teams at the moment, before the club season begins early next year.
Super 9 is set to begin in June, and at the end of 2020 So'oalo said his team want to go back to Hawai'i to defend their Waikiki 10s title.
“It’s a good tournament in terms of the level of rugby over there," he said.
“It’d be a good chance for some of the other franchises, not only the Eels, to think about [going to] that tournament because it’s good exposure."
The coach thanked major sponsor Taula along with the other businesses and individuals who made the trip possible, along with the Apia Rugby Union Executive.
“Without their support, the tour doesn’t happen. The win and the cup, it’s for them," So'oalo said/
“That’s our appreciation for the support of everyone giving their hand for the tour."