10 May 2024

Pasifika Sipoti - preview of weekend sports

5:27 pm on 10 May 2024
OFC Men's Champion League

OFC Men's Champion League Photo: OFC

Host ready for Oceania club meet

The OFC Men's Champions League 2024 kicks off in Papeete in the next few days.

Being host is not an easy task.

But local champions AS Pirae has been there and done that so to speak.

They play in their sixth OFC event.

The titans of Tahiti have reached the finals and semi-finals, while also competing in the FIFA Club World Cup in 2021, losing in the opening round to hosts Al Jazira.

OFC media reported AS Pirae's road to the Champions League was by no means easy, overcoming rivals AS Tefana in a dramatic two-leg National Playoff.

Following a 1-1 draw in the opening leg, the two sides couldn't be separated after 90 minutes in the second.

Tefana broke the deadlock midway through extra time, but a free kick in the dying minutes of the match gave Pirae a lifeline.

In a tight penalty shootout, keeper Francois Decoret proved the hero for AS Pirae, making two saves, before Nick Tauotaha converted from the spot to seal a 6-5 victory on penalties for his side and a place in the Champions League.

AS Pirae is Tahiti's representative at the OFC championships.

AS Pirae is Tahiti's representative at the OFC championships. Photo: OFC

AS Pirae is currently in red-hot form, having won all seven of their matches to sit top of the domestic standings and are just three games away from being crowned champions of Tahiti for a 12th time.

Experienced Head Coach Vatea Terai will be hoping his side can continue that momentum into OFC's premier club competition.

His team will have the added benefit of playing in front of their home fans, which history suggests can be a telling factor.

Three times the Tahitian sides have made it to the final and on each occasion they've come up short.

AS Pirae will be hoping to buck that trend and make history this time around.

"We're going to do everything we can to do our best in this tournament," Terai said.

"We're going to aim for the final, and then we're counting on the Tahitian public to help us win the title."

The focus will be on their pool matches.

They are in Group B along with last years semi-finalists Ifira Black Bird FC (Vanuatu), AS Magenta of New Caledonia and debutants Vaivase-tai FC from Samoa.

Terai believes they just need to turn up and play their games, as they also know the players and teams having met most over the years.

"The players know the players from the opposing sides because they met them last year, and we know the style of play of these countries too, so we're going to prepare as well as we can to represent the Polynesians with dignity," Terai added.

He has picked two of the most experienced players in Oceania,captain Alvin Tehau and Heimano Bourebare, as his players to watch at the event.

The duo had played at numerous OFC Men's Champions League tournaments, as well as the FIFA Club World Cup in 2021.

Bourebare also brings a wealth of experience from the international stage, having played for Tahiti in their FIFA Confederations Cup campaign in 2013.

Meanwhile, disruptions to flights affecting the Vanuatu clubside, Ifira Black Bird, has forced the changes to Group B matches. at the OFC Men's Champions League 2024 in Tahiti.

OFC has confirmed the change as part of the Vanuatu team will arrive in Papeete on Tuesday, 14 May.

Flight changes have been forced by the of Air Vanuatu's international connections out of Port Vila.

The opening match for Ifira Black Bird against AS Magenta, originally scheduled for Sunday, 12 May (local time), will now be played on Sunday, May 19.

The Vanuatu club side will play its opening game against AS Pirae next Wednesday, 15 May.

Match day three for Group B will now take place on Friday, 17 May along with the final matches in Group A.

OFC says semi-finals at Stade Pater are moved forward a day from 21-22 May, to allow teams adequate time to recover and prepare.

The final, scheduled for 24 May, remains unchanged.

The Rewa team leaving Nadi airport leaving for Tahiti on Thursday.

The Rewa team leaving Nadi airport leaving for Tahiti on Thursday. Photo: Rewa Football

Rewa focused on first match

Meanwhile, Fijian representative, Rewa flew to Papeete on Thursday focused on their first pool match.

They will meet defending champs Auckland City at 10am on Sunday.

The current Fiji Premier League leaders also have the Solomon Warriors and Hekari United in their pool.

Coach Rodeck Singh told FBC Sports before they departed Nadi that they will not be making a lot of changes ahead of their first game.

He said they have done their preparation and it is now up to the players to get the job done on the field.

"It is going back to be the same Rewa team, there won't be any changes," Singh said.

"We have been preparing well and I know the players will do their best".

Singh has been able to guide the team through the local Fijian league this year.

He said the league has been a good preparation ground for them.

Flight changes for Ifira players

The second group of Ifira Black Bird (IBB) FC players, representing Vanuatu in the OFC Men's Champions League, will leave for Tahiti via Fiji Airways and Air Calin due to their Air Vanuatu flight being cancelled.

The Vanuatu Daily Post reported on Friday morning that this arrangement will get the players to Papeete on time.

Air Vanuatu has cancelled some flights in and out of Vanuatu.

Four players will travel on Sunday while the other 17 will depart on Monday.

The first group are already on their way to the tournament venue.

OFC president Lambert Maltock confirmed that the matches in Pool B of the OFC Champions League in Tahiti are being rescheduled.

The initial disruptions raised concerns about whether the team could make it to Papeete in time for the competition.

Ifira resident, Manu Laban, expressed relief at the new arrangements.

"I appreciate the great effort; it was bad news for us to think that the boys were not to go," he said.

Laban explained that while the team members had visas for Tahiti, they didn't have clearance to transit through New Caledonia, creating additional hurdles.

The flight disruptions have also affected other events, including the relocation of the OFC Nations Cup Group B matches to Suva.

Matches will kick off on Sunday with the Group A pool games.

That will see Rewa battling Auckland City in the first game at the Stade Paea before the Melanesian battle between the Solomon Warriors and Hekari United.

Group B games will kick off on Monday, 12 May with Ifira Black Bird taking on AS Magneta in the first game.

The second game in that pool will feature local side AS Pirae against Samoa's Vaivase-tai.

Matches will continue throughout the week with the semi-finals on 21 May and the final on 24 May.

Fiji league side preps for Raiders clash

The Fiji Kaiviti Silktails rugby league team will be hoping to get their first win this Saturday.

The side is yet to register their first win this season in the Jersey Flegg Cup.

Silktails coach Wes Naiqama told FBC Sports they are taking one game at a time.

He adds the team continues to share positive vibes that will help with their mental preparation.

"It's keeping these boys up regardless of the result," the former Fiji Bati captain said.

"We know they have reacted towards it in a positive way, I know we're still searching and training as hard as we can to get our first win which will be a challenge."

The side have played nine games so far and have 16 left to play in the season.

The Silktails will host the Canberra Raiders on Saturday at Prince Charles Park in Nadi at 12pm.

PNG Hunters optinistic ahead of Northern Pride clash

Sticking to their own game plan and making it work is the focus of the Papua New Guinea Hunters head coach Paul Aiton as they prepared to take on Northern Pride on Saturday at the Santos National Football Stadium.

The side had a good battle in the Queensland Rugby League Hostplus Cup last week, thrashing the Townsville Blackhawks outfit on home soil to the tune of 52-16 on Sunday.

But the Pride are a different kettle of fish.

They are at the top of the competition ladder and will be in the game to remain on top.

The Post Courier said Aiton's men are hoping to build on their win last weekend.

"I am definitely looking forward to it (weekend match) and I'm hoping the boys are looking forward to it as well.

They (Pride) are really right up in front there so it will be good measure for our players," Aiton said.

"We are individually prepared. I think we are slowly understanding our system and processes a lot more in our team and it is starting to show.

"We just have to understand our systems a lot more and sticking to it by having faith in what we are doing. Don't shy away from what we are doing even it seems like it is not working, it will work, just stay with it."

The Hunters mentor said they will focus on what they need to improve.

They are looking within to get the result.

"Big thing is our errors and penalties; we have reduced that by quite a lot which was a really big focus for us," he said.

"We just have to hold the ball and give ourselves that much chance."

Hunters will have its skipper Ila Alu leading the side at lock lining up alongside Benjamin Kelly, Whallan Tau-Loi and Anthony Worot and Valetine Richard. At five-eighth Joshua Lau will be without Jamie Mavoko who is still awaiting clearance from a concussion.

The coach knows their opponents will be tough as they have the experienced Thomas Dufty at halfback and Dontoray Lui at five-eighth been.

Dufty has NRL experience with Cowboys and has been a huge part of Pride's strength this season scoring four tries in his seven appearances so far.

Rebels eye finals spot

While Melbourne's future remains in doubt off the field, the Rebels are desperate to snap their losing streak to ensure they play Super Rugby Pacific finals for the first time.

Uncertainty still surrounds their future in Super Rugby.

Rugby Australia has not responded to queries sent to them about what arrangements have ben made, if any, to save the club.

But the team is focused on getting the job done on the field.

The Rebels have lost their last two matches and they face a fired-up Queensland who have been buoyed by a rare victory over the Crusaders in Christchurch last round.

Melbourne are sitting in sixth place, one behind the Reds, but have a torrid run home against the Chiefs (4th), Brumbies (3rd) and an always-challenging away clash with Fiji (8th).

They have lost to the Reds in seven of their past eight meetings but did secure a six-point victory last year in Melbourne.

Young Rebels lock Josh Canham said his team would approach Queensland with confidence after a strong showing against the highly rated Blues last time out until a late blow-out.

"Right now we're taking it one game at a time, so all our focus now is on the Reds and winning this game - if we do that we're in good stead for finals," Canham told the AAP.

The lineout has been a weapon for both teams, with Reds co-captain Liam Wright taking the most in the competition, followed by Canham.

"They're pretty skilful, they're good over the ball and they've got a good lineout," Canham said.

"If we put their lineout under pressure this week and get our contact areas right it should be a good game for us."

The side have a number of Island players in Taniela Tupou, Alex Mafi and Sam Talakai, who all joined Salakaia-Loto in shifting from Queensland to the Rebels.

The decision from Rugby Australia on the future of the debt-ridden Rebels continues to drag on but Melbourne product Canham hoped the club could continue beyond this season, to give other Victorian players a team to aspire to play for.

Drua players in Perth preparing for the Force game.

Drua players in Perth preparing for the Force game. Photo: Fijian Drua

Wallabies return for Force

The Western Force have been strengthened this weekend with two Wallabies returning to their ranks to face the Western Force on Saturday.

Veteran halfback Nic White and Izack Rodda have been named in the starting 15.

White has been an inspiration for the side and he will need to step up again against the Drua, who are still fighting to win their first game on the road this season.

Former Wallaby Kurtley Beale is also in the starting lineup.

Meanwhile, Drua coach Mick Byrne said the team will have their own destiny staring them in the face this weekend.

The side lost to the Brumbies last week and will need to win this weekend if they want to stay in contention for a top 8 spot.

Drua have two away games left against the Western Force this weekend and the Highlanders on 26 May.

They also have two home games against the Reds next weekend and Rebels on 1 June.

Bryne told the media this week any loss in their next four games will dent their chances of a playoff spot.

"We know that the four games remaining now, it's in our hands where we're in the eight, we've got to keep winning and stay in the eight," he said.

"The big thing for us is our mindset going into this weekend."

The Drua take on the Western Force at 11.55pm (NZ Time) on Saturday in Perth.

Other Super Rugby matches this weekend will see Reds battling the Rebels on Friday night in Brisbane, the Blues host the Hurricanes on Saturday, Highlanders take on the Crusaders in Dunedin while the Waratahs square off against the Brumbies.

Vanuatu beach volleyball team move to China

The Vanuatu national women's beach volleyball team is entering the final stretch of their Paris Olympics qualification challenge.

This time they are moving on to China where they will be playing in two FIVB World Beach Pro Tour Futures events over the next fortnight.

With support from Aussie-based coach Shanon Zunker, the team is now in China, ahead of the remaining phases of the Continental Cup in June.

Linline Matauatu and Majabelle Lawac, with Sherysyn Toko and Loti Joe, will tip off in the first of these events this weekend in Pingtan.

They are seeded at number 7 and 9 respectively.

Vanuatu volleyball said on Thursday the BPT Futures events in both Pingtan this weekend, and then in Wuhan next weekend, will be a strong performance gauge for the coaching staff on site and in Port Vila, in preparation for the Continental Cup semi-final phase.

Winning at the Continental Cup will mean qualification for Paris.

Coach Zunker is optimistc about the teams' chances.

"The girls have been working very hard on some new ways of doing things to improve our offensive effectiveness and adapting our game strategy to suit the way the sport is being played at the highest level," he said.

"The Vanuatu women have been competitive internationally for a long time, but across both genders beach volleyball is evolving and we need to evolve with it."

He says while there is a focus on the Continental Cup in June, it's important to use these international events to evaluate where the team is in terms of execution in high pressure situations.

"We aim to play a much stronger, faster and more versatile style, which the girls are performing well in practice, and I'm super proud of them for embracing that change. It's now time to see how that translates in matches," he added.

With the players having spent the past few weeks in a training camp setting on the Gold Coast in Queensland, in the leadup to these next events, they are feeling confident and are ready to hit the sand in China over this next fortnight and give their best, with an eye on the prize in June.