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Wainuiomata High School were beaten finalists in three of the seven years the premier Wellington college rugby league competition was run before this season. Even with the Umaga-Jensen twins they failed to win the top grade.
On Saturday Wainuiomata finally reached the summit in the capital. At Wise Park, Wainuiomata proved too smart for Wellington College winning 24-10.
Tanara Haenga is a prop forward and second rower for the champions. A cheerful and articulate Year 13, Haenga captures the tension beforehand.
"Our warm up was full on. We were each really focussed on our own roles. When the game started we got a case of the butterflies and struggled early," Haenga reflects.
Wellington was equally rattled and Wainuiomata withstood an early physical onslaught before scoring three first-half tries.
"Wellington lost a bit of discipline and we all stepped up. We made the most of our chances and had a good lead at halftime," Haenga says.
In the second-half Wellington threatened to rally, but Wainuiomata held their nerve. Solomona Mapesone bagged a hat-trick and Conan Burt and Levi Wipene also crossed the chalk in a victory which caused palpable relief and excitement.
"I felt so happy. The commitment of the boys was awesome and Stephen Kearney is a legend so to win his trophy is real cool," Haenga enthuses.
"Last year some of the boys had different priorities. Many of them didn't show up to training. A little bit of effort goes a long way," Haenga continues.
Wainuiomata ended the two year unbeaten run of St. Pat’s Silverstream, a key victory in their push to the title.
"That was our hardest game. Silverstream are a really big and dominant team. Beating them gave us a lot of belief," Haenga explains.
Two players in the team are heading to Australia for trials with NRL teams. Montelle Le'Afa is going to the Canberra Raiders and Conan Burt to Brisbane. Wainuiomata enjoys a proud tradition as a league stronghold, with the list of Kiwis from the area including John and David Lomax, David Faiumu and Paul Whatuira. Interestingly another team member Alex Faifai Loa is the cousin of Kiwi Kalifa Faifai Loa.
"It's a big deal for us. There has been a real buzz at school. We are really proud of our achievement. I would like to thank our coaches David Tuari, Donny Maxwell and Moana Kuma who come into school to help us out," Haenga acclaims.
In the winter Haenga was in the First XV rugby team. Individually the hooker enjoyed personal success making the Wellington and New Zealand Maori U18 squads, but his team struggled finishing fifth in Premier Two.
"We find it hard to compete with the city schools. We lose a lot of players, but I love my rugby. I was real surprised to make the Wellington U18's. I love the fact you don't have to count to five every time you have the ball," Haenga laughs.