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The Lions won both qualifier tournaments in Hawaii, making a clear case that they are the best team in the state. In the process, they beat Marist Hawaii, the team that made nationals last year. Marist came into the summer looking very strong, having added two players from defending national champs Belmont Shore in Peter Sio and Sinipate Uiagalelei. Also registered with Marist was former USA player Leonard Peters, but he never actually suited up for the team.
In the end, Marist finished 2nd in one qualifier and third in the other. And the Lions? The Lions just took care of business. Coached by former Tonga international Muli Kaufusi, the Lions are young, inexperienced, but athletic and fast.
“The guys played with a lot of heart,” Kaufusi told RUGBYMag.com. “We’ve got a local players, and they played good. But they need more experience, and so we’re spending the time now working on our defense and our basic skills.”
Kaufusi said many of his players are only recently out of high school. Many played a lot of football as well as rugby. Ben Mameo is one of those, a huge talent, but one who has work to do.
“You can see when he plays defense that he is really, really good, but the offense isn’t quite there yet; we all have a lot to work on,” said Kaufusi.
Mike Tuia and Vau Natoa have been through USA camps before, and bring leadership to the team. Meanwhile Fijian Alekisa Natuilagilagi reminds his coach of Samoan star Mikaele Pesamino, “except Alekisa plays defense,” he said.
“We have a lot of speed in the backline,” continued Kaufusi. “We used that speed. But our forwards still need work to keep up with them. The boys are excited and are working hard, but we have to do more work on our skills to play at the next level.”