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Nadroga's class of 89

Manoj Kumar
Thursday, January 31, 2013

Nasinu and Nadroga, finalists from the previous year's IDC, were favourites for another major showdown.

Some districts, like Ba, were seriously affected by national team player bans following a commotion in camp earlier in the season.

Nadi came with a mixture of youth and experience including Rusiate Waqan, Eshwa Nadan "Ninja", Henry Dyer and Savenaca Taga.

The tournament was the Battle of the Giants 1989 and the venue Ratu Cakobau Park, Nausori.

Opening day

Nadroga stamped its authority from day one with a convincing 3-0 win over lowly Tavua. Two brothers played against each other - Jone Watisoni (Nadroga) and Josefa Masilagi (Tavua).

The goals came from Radike Nawalu, skipper Kini Vuira and Watisoni.

Nadi surprised Nasinu with a physical approach and drew 0-0. Lautoka and Suva played out a 1-1 thriller. The Blues struck early with a goal from Isimeli Tamaitamana but the Whites struck back with now The Fiji Times employee Manoa Keith moving up from his defensive berth to equalise.

Nadi, Suva, Nasinu, Tailevu Naitasiri and Lautoka were in one pool while Ba, Labasa, Nadro, Tavua and Rewa in the other.

Tough pool

There was a lot of excitement in the second pool. Going into the last game between Suva and Nasinu, both teams were locked with five points each while Nadi was ahead with six. A win for either Suva or Nasinu would have seen them accompany Nadi into the semi-finals. But it turned out differently. There were claims of 'fix' by angry Nadi officials when Suva and Nasinu played out a 2-all draw, a result that relegated Nadi to third spot on goal difference as all three teams had six points each. So Nadi, unbeaten in the tournament with three draws and a win, went out of the tournament. Tailevu Naitasiri, featuring Ramulo Kaibau, sprung a surprise when they beat highly fancied Lautoka 3-2 and finished ahead of the Blues on the points table with four points. That though was to be their last BOG as they were relegated into the lower tier later that year by B Division champions Navua.

Nawalu show

Nadroga looked dominant in the other pool and the fight for second spot was between Ba, Rewa and Labasa. Nadroga smashed Labasa 3-0 with Nawalu netting a hat-trick to take his goal tally in pool play to five having earlier struck against Ba and Tavua. Nawalu and defender Mesulame Titifanua scored as they beat a youthful Ba 2-0 with Alan Jesoni and Joe Basudra the only notable names alongside young and upcoming players like Taito Bula. Ba hit back to secure a semi-final place following wins over Rewa and Labasa. Against Rewa, Clyde Lagilevu, who would go on to win the 1995 IDC with Tavua, scored from the penalty spot as Ba won 1-0. Nippy Afroz Ali "Foji" netted the winner against Labasa as the Men in Black registered a similar scoreline.

Last-gasp goal

Suva took on Nadroga in one semi-final and it turned out to be a cracker in heavy underfoot conditions. The Whites took a surprise lead when ginger-haired Ilikimi Tulalevu misdirected his back pass to goalkeeper Jo Kurivitu to net an own goal. Suva, the defending champions, looked on course for the final with a minute left to play when Nadroga won a corner kick. Up rose Viliame Nabure to equalise with some 40 seconds remaining. The men from the Coral Coast could not believe their luck. Suva went out on penalties when Vatu Charles and Waqa Lepolo missed their attempts.

The other semi-final was one-sided with Nasinu coming out 3-1 victors over Ba with goals from Dinesh 'China' Kumar, Jone Naqiri and Rajesh Kumar.

Nadro feeling

With tough Meli Tuqota out of the semi-final and final following a red card in the last pool game, Nasinu was up against it in the final, a repeat of the 1988 IDC showdown. That was won by a Charles Work goal in extra time. This one was decided in regulation time. A long ball from Kini Tubi found Nawalu. He dribbled past two Nasinu defenders and rifled home the winner past Player of the Tournament Tagi Vonolagi to net his sixth goal - not counting the penalty he netted in the semi-final. With Tubi, Titifanua, Waisea Naiova and Kurivitu outstanding in defence, Ramendra Dutt, Tulalevu and others doing their bit in mid-field, Nadroga reigned 1-0 to win its first BOG crown. "You just can't beat the Nadroga feeling," offered an elated NFA president Luke Waqa. They went on to win the league and IDC to make a clean sweep in 1989.

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