By JACK AMI
THE Nadi Aviators arrived in Port Moresby yesterday determined to turn the tables on the Lae Tigers in their Melanesian Club Championship match at the National Football Stadium tomorrow.
This will be the second clash for the regional title between the two sides with the Tigers having trounced an inexperienced Aviators outfit 40-4 in Sigatoka, Fiji, a year ago.
The Aviators head into enemy territory needing to be at their absolute best to spring an upset on a Tigers side missing several key men.
The absence of veteran back-rower David Loko takes away the grit, toughness and big game experience of a senior forward but captain Charlie Simon, who joined the SP Hunters this season, will be the biggest loss for the champions to overcome.
Aviators coach Vela Tawake said they respected the home side and would not take anything for granted knowing a lapse in concentration or a bad patch could see the Tigers easily pile on the points in front of a parochial crowd.
“This will be a big game for us as most of the youngsters will be exposed at a new level of football,” Tawake said.
He promised that his side were keen to improve on their previous performance and they welcomed the challenge of playing the Tigers at the NFS.
Captain Josateki Sovau, who is a Fiji Bati residents representative, along with key men Josua Rokonavutoro, Viliame Vuki, Vereti Bukavesi, Waiea Nasekai and Atueta Daulaca were primed for the challenge.
Nadi’s other stars to look out for are Fiji U20 Rugby World Cup rep Maikeli Sivo and Melbourne Storm-bound youngster Isimeli Vatanitawake.
Sovau said the Tigers were a solid side who based their game around a grinding style using their rugged pack to soften up opponents before unleashing their backs on the back-pedaling defence
He promised to have a counter strategy while using his side’s size advantage firstly in the forwards and then on the edges.
Meanwhile, the Tigers under coach Stanley Tepend have been preparing for the Digicel Cup for over a month and the side is ready for its first hit-out of 2018.
Tepend has installed co-captains Ishmael Balkawa and Paul Kambi to lead while the front six have a tough of class and championship experience about them with Junior Rop, Tiger Emery, Wesser Tenza and Mark Piti expected to feature prominently.
In the halves Mafu Kalas and Edwin Ipape pass their first acid test as the defending Digicel Cup and Melanesian Cup champions will fare in 2018.
The Tigers hard-running backs will definitely get their hands on the ball but it is what the likes of Charlie Martin and Nikki Pilyo and in talented fullback Joe Joshua can conjure up that will make the clash worth watching.
By JACK AMI