The fifth anniversary of the ‘Try of the Year’

By Jared Smith

Steelform Wanganui’s game on Saturday with Poverty Bay comes on the fifth anniversary of one of the greatest on-field moments in the team’s illustrious history in the Heartland Championship.

The Meads Cup final in Timaru on October 24, 2015, will always be remembered for the NZ Rugby’s Try of the Year – a 105m effort that started behind Wanganui’s own line and saw one winger somehow fight out of four tackle attempts to set off a string of stunning offloads, in between one midfield clearing kick, for the other winger to eventually  dive across at the other end of the field.

The extraordinary seven-pointer took Wanganui from a narrow 14-11 lead in the 64th minute and under pressure from favourites South Canterbury, to breaking the opposition and eventually going ahead 28-11 to win their first Meads Cup since 2011.

Dotting down was Samu Kubunavanua, while the human “slot ball machine” behind his own posts, as coach Jason Caskey described him, was Michael Nabuliwaqe.

The decisive offloader three times during the movement was Poasa Waqanibau, and the man responsible for the 22m clearing kick that took a perfect bounce for the chasers on halfway was Trinity Spooner-Neera.

After the match, highlights of the try lit up rugby’s social media platforms, with both national and international commentators marvelling at the speed, the skill and the bravery of the four players to chance their arm in that fashion.

Around a month later, Kubunavanua was sitting on stage in Auckland’s Sky City at the 2015 NZ Rugby Awards, accepting the Sky Try of the Year prize – which was voted on by the New Zealand public after viewing nominations from that year’s Rugby World Cup, Super Rugby, NPC and Farah Palmer Cup.

Waqanibau was swiftly snapped up by Canterbury rugby and won another national title with them the following year, while also ironically defending the Ranfurly Shield against his former Wanganui team mates in 2017.

He eventually went back to the Fiji Drua, who play in Australia’s NRC, before moving onto America to join the New England Free Jacks.

A 2015 import from his home Hawke’s Bay Magpies after having had brief stints with the Hurricanes and NZ Sevens team, the journeyman Spooner-Neera continued his journey – playing for Taranaki in 2016 – and now continues on in club rugby for Havelock North RC.

Kubunavanua and Nabuliwaqe remained fixtures on the WRFU representative scene, until residency issues compelled Nabuliwaqe to return home to Fiji in 2017, although he would return briefly for a cameo appearance for his old Settler’s Honey Ngamatapouri club in 2019.

And Kubunavanua would score a try in another Meads Cup final victory in 2017, while reaching a personal milestone when he played in the Hurricanes Development XV vs Chiefs Development XV match in Whanganui in 2016.

A move into the loose forwards and succession of leg injuries have lessened his Heartland appearances for Wanganui in recent times, but when he is in full flight, one can often have flashbacks to that magic afternoon in Timaru five years ago on Saturday – when four young men made the seemingly impossible become reality.

Watch the try here

Watch the full 2015 Meads Cup final here