Vanuatu claimed a historic victory against Pacific neighbour Solomon Islands (48 to 30) in their first ever test match in Mackay on Saturday (5 October).
The game, played in front of a vocal crowd of 1,648, commemorated the 150th anniversary of south-Sea islanders or ‘Black Birds’ brought to Australia to work in the cane fields.
Born and bred Ni’Vanuatu, Captain Samuela Loaloadravu, said the feeling of victory was awesome.
“Words can’t describe how much this win means to me. It’s been a two year journey to get this first win and to captain this group of men is just an honour”.
“It was an amazing display as we had 11 debutants, with 8 players came from the local competitions in Port Vila and Santo.”
“And it was a real honour for us all to have Ni’Vanuatu NRL star outside back Justin O’Neill presenting the Vanuatu side with their jerseys and also acting as a trainer for the side.”
New coach David Simpson was equally impressed “I couldn’t be prouder of the team. They worked really hard for this, in the lead up and in the game”.
“Solomon Islands are a very good team with some fantastic players. At times it looked as though they might run away with the game but Vanuatu stuck to the plan and got themselves back in it.”
But the winning streak isn’t over for this Pacific powerhouse, says Mr Simpson.
“I can’t wait to head over to Vanuatu this week and look to get a victory in front of our home crowd in Port Vila against another Pacific brother Niue on Saturday” (12 October).
The Vanuatu team fly out from Australia on Tuesday with the Port Vila based players heading directly to Port Vila. The rest of the squad led by local Jean-Pierez Kenie head to Santo to conduct a range of promotional activities before camp kicks off in Port Vila on Wednesday.
Tickets to the game will be on sale throughout the week and make sure to check out Vanuatu Rugby League’s Facebook page and website for the latest information in the lead up to the Niue game.
Solomon Islands playing in its first test match started strongly and dominated the opening 10 minutes with all the ball and field position. Some valiant Vanuatu defence kept the Solomon Islands at bay until after a number of back to back sets, but Solomon Islands winger Vernon Stewart opened the scoring in the 11th minute finishing off a crisp backline movement to lead 4-0.
With an even share of possession the Vanuatu side scored with their first set of six inside the oppositions half the field after a great rolling set from Vanuatu’s big men set up a quick play the ball and classy fullback Javarn White scored with a quick dart from dummy-half from 15 metres out in the 18th minute. The conversion was successful by Joshua Tanner to put Vanuatu into the lead 6-4.
Solomon Islands hooker Jesse Tass who had been dangerous all game put Solomon Islands back in the lead with an individual effort to score from dummy-half in the 23rd minute. Conversion from centre Harley Bickey was successful to give Solomon Islands a 10-6 lead.
Vanuatu regained the lead in the 32nd minute after a break by Mal Meninga’s nephew Joey Meninga which saw him surge 50 metres downfield before being stopped in a great one on one tackle by Brydon Sutton. Coming off the bench Robbie Congoo scored from close range a few tackles later. With the successful conversion by Joshua Tanner Vanuatu had a slender 12 – 10 lead.
In the 35th minute a great ball by halfback Joshua Tanner saw fullback Javarn White surge into a hole before drawing the fullback to an unmarked Joshua Tanner backing up on the inside to score under the posts and with the successful conversion of his own try Vanuatu led 18 – 10 just before half-time.
Despite all the momentum an error in their own half gifted Solomon islands good field position and hooker Jesse Tass took full advantage crossing for his second try in the 38th minute and with the conversion from Harley Bickley, Solomon islands narrowed the gap to trail by on 16 to 18 at half-time.
It was all Solomon Islands in the second half with a converted try to captain Jardine Bobongie in the 43rd minute and a try to centre Zac Williams in the 55th minute as Solomon Islands surged to a 26 – 18 lead. Coming off the bench utility back Robbie Congoo scored his second try in the 60th minute as his creative play from dummy-half caused headaches for the Solomon Islands defence. Joshua Tanner added the extras to leave Vanuatu trailing by 2 heading into the last 20 minutes of the game.
Javarn White and Joshua Tanner both crossed for their second tries in the 65th and 67th minutes and with Joshua Tanner keeping his perfect goal kicking alive saw Vanuatu fly out to a 36-26 lead. Just when it looked like Vanuatu was running away with the game, Solomon Islands showed great fight to get back to 36-30 with a fantastic team try to centre Harley Bickey.
Man of the match Robbie Congoo put the game beyond doubt with his third try in the 76th minute, making a break from 40 metres out before beating the fullback. The celebrations started early as centre Jason Pakoasongi a lawyer from Vanuatu did what he did against Greece 12 months earlier and scored a try in the last play of the game. Joshua Tanner kicked his 8th goal from 8 attempts from the sideline to give him a personal haul of 24 points.