DEWSBURY second row Bradley Watkinson travelled to the other side of the work to help Niue make their international debut, only to be beaten on the bell.
The Rams star was the only UK-based player in Saturday’s historic international at Port Vila’s Municipal Stadium, which saw a late try snatch victory for the home side in front of a small but enthusiastic crowd.
“Midway through the season, I got the call-up to come and be part of the Niue international team for their first Test match,” Watkinson – joined on Saturday by brother Steve – tells League Express.
“I knew a fair bit about my Niuen heritage. I was brought up on my Maori side, mostly, in New Zealand. It’s my great, great grandfather who emigrated from Niue to New Zealand.
“Both sides had a good brand of football and hopefully we can all develop together and be on the big stage one day.”
Vanuatu, fresh from a victory over the Solomons a week earlier in Mackay, raced to a 10-0 early lead with tries to interchange Geffrey Kausei and second row Joey Meninga, nephew of Mal.
The locals seemed to have more natural flair in attack while the thick-set Niue side was more physical. Niue crossed for their first try after Brad Watkinson’s brother Steve found winger Chris Ulukita unmarked on the left flank.
The Vanuatu fans were in near shock as the visitors scored again before halftime, with the ball kept alive after a breakdown in attack, via centre Codezz Semeki.
Momentum had swung decisively in the direction of Niue and after the break, it looked very much like it would not swing back.
Ulika posted his second touchdown to edge the visitors ahead 16-10 before big prop Sam Pierce crashed over to the left of the posts for Vanuatu, only for scrum half Josh Tanner to hit the woodwork from almost directly in front.
What could have been the match-deciding moment came in the 60th minute when Vanuatu’s Nelson Law took an interception on his own 20 metre line but fumbled immediately.
Instead of falling on it, he allowed the ball to be picked up by Nuie who raced downfield for to score via stand-off Jordan Tongahiri.
Then came a controversial Vanuatu try to centre Jason Pakaosongi. The local player seemed to be tackled touch-in-goal but Australian whistler Peter Gough gave the try on a touch judge’s advice.
“Unfortunately over here we don’t have men upstairs to have a look at it,” said Brad Watkinson. “We didn’t think it was a try but the linesmen did and you can’t argue”
There were a number of calls from Gough that upset the Niue lads but there were few complaints, with both teams applauding the official at fulltime and celebrating together in the middle of the field.
For Brad Watkinson, it’s now a matter of enjoying the sunshine while it lasts.
“I’ve been signed for another year,” he said. “I head off back to pre-season training in November. That’s the dream, to play Super League.”
Filed for: LEAGUE EXPRESS