Sideline conversion propels third-string kicker into limelight and into the hearts of local fans.
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“Relief” is how Tevita Ofa describes the moment when he landed one of the most memorable kicks in the almost 70-year history of Counties Manukau rugby.
With time up, Ofa, 21, slotted a sideline conversion that saw Counties Manukau PIC Steelers beat Canterbury 31-29 last Wednesday at Navigation Homes Stadium in Pukekohe.
It was the first time the Steelers had beaten Canterbury in the National Provincial Championship (NPC) since 2016.
The pressure kick was special for several reasons.
Ofa has barely practised, as he is the team’s third string kicker. He stepped up on Wednesday after injuries to the first two kickers.
The try had been scored in the right hand corner - the wrong side for right footed kickers, who draw the ball from right to left.
Ofa hit the kick straight, but thought it was short.
“I felt like I hit it too high," he says.
“Our tee boy started celebrating and he was behind me and as I looked up, I thought it was short so I was like, ‘why is this guy celebrating?’."
Ofa was relieved to see the two assistant referees raise their flags.
Ofa is of Tongan and Samoan heritage, and is a proud Manurewa resident. He started playing rugby aged five and debuted for Counties last year and has been overwhelmed by the reaction to Wednesday’s win.
“There was a [Instagram] story that got sent to me and it was someone saying that they’re going to name their child after me… my little brother sent it to me and I was cracking up in the car with the boys.”
After the rare win last week, Counties came back down to earth at the weekend with a 17-27 loss to Tasman. They currently sit tenth on the NPC table with three wins and five losses.
Hero image: Tevita Ofa's last-minute sideline conversion against Canterbury has gained him new fans on social media. Photo/ Supplied