BOP Under-18 Mixed crowned National Touch ChampionsPat Spellman
The Bay of Plenty Under-18 Mixed touch team have finished the Junior Touch Nationals unbeaten to be crowned the national champions – a feat that has been attributed to the strength of their bond.
After three days of matches, the team came up against North Harbour in the final match on Sunday afternoon, winning 11-7 to take the title.
The Junior Touch Nationals, for under-16 and under-18 boys’, girls’ and mixed grades, were held at the Rotorua International Stadium from Friday until Sunday. Bay of Plenty had a team in every division, but it was the under-18 Mixed side that went farthest and finished unbeaten.
Their coach, Rongo Piua said most of his group had been playing together for about four years and their greatest strength was their bond.
“[The final] was awesome, Harbour were mean. It was the team bond that got us the win – the talent’s there, the skill’s there, but the bond got us through,” Piua said.
During the first half of the final, it was impossible to split the two teams. Bay of Plenty opened the scoring when Caleb Piua threw a big cut-out pass to Minardi Daniel who strolled over in the corner.
North Harbour wrestled back the momentum and scored three consecutive tries to lead 3-1.
Daniel’s second try reduced the deficit to one before Stevie McLeod crossed in the corner to make it 3-all. Bay of Plenty then took a 4-3 lead, but North Harbour hit back to make it 4-all.
The sides traded tries again before, crucially, Bay of Plenty scored consecutive tries on the brink of halftime to lead 7-5.
In the second half Bay of Plenty always looked in control, cruising to an 11-7 victory.
Going into the tournament, the team constructed a “why board”. Each player added a photo representing why they play.
“I had a friend win one year and he said the reason was the why board,” Piua said.
“So I just asked the kids to bring photos showing why they play, why they do what they do. They all had family members and teammates – that was our go-to.
“I think our second half performances were good. We’re a team that usually crashes in the second half, but they ground it out. They pretty much did everything the whole campaign, if they needed advice I gave it, but everything was run by them. At this stage you have to learn that and they did an awesome job.”
Co-captains Ceiza James and Calais Adams were pleased with the week’s work.
“We were consistent throughout the whole tournament,” Ceiza said.
“Our girls were probably our standout for the whole tournament, especially our far side winger Minardi, she pretty much did that whole side on her own. She’s quick and fit.”
Calais said the team was special to be a part of.
“I’m speechless, I’ve been part of this team for four years now and there’s no better feeling than giving back to the team and our coaches by taking the final on our home turf.
“The why board helped immensely, it gave us a reason to play even harder than we do and that got us there in the end.”
First Published – https://www.nzherald.co.nz/rotorua-daily-post/news/article.cfm?c_id=1503438&objectid=12202470