Red Raider Rugby A Quiet National Power
The most successful athletic team in Hawaii may be the least known.
Although not an official school sport, Kahuku Rugby Club’s No. 3 national ranking makes it a standout at a school boasting a history of athletic success.
Kahuku senior Roman Salanoa moves the ball against the No. 1-ranked Danville Oaks May 7 in San Diego. PHOTO BY DENISE CAVANAGH PHOTOGRAPHY.
In two seasons as a team, Kahuku has won two state championships, crushed a Canadian team 70-0 at Aloha Stadium and is Hawaii’s first club team to earn invites to national tournaments.
The Red Raiders were perfect a year ago and nearly perfect this season, losing only to No. 1- ranked Danville Oaks of California 8-5 in the finals of the Pacific Coast Cup Championship May 7-9 in San Diego. Prior to that loss, Kahuku beat No. 4-ranked Back Bay (California) 55-0. Kahuku also went 3-0 at the Las Vegas Invitational in February, including wins over No. 6-ranked United (Utah) and a 74-5 victory against the Napa Stormers from California.
That lone loss is still painful to talk about, says head coach Seamus Fitzgerald, but the notion of playing top national teams has a purpose. “One of our goals for the season was to get a national ranking,” he said. “When you get a ranking, you get more attention and more opportunity for the players. The Pacific Cup is a great opportunity for them to play in front of college coaches and the High School All- American selection panel.”
There are currently 315 U.S. colleges playing club rugby, with some offering scholarships and grants to talented athletes.
Two players from last year’s team, Polikapo Liua and Joshua Muaina, received scholarships from Lindenwood University in Missouri. That university is looking at eight more Kahuku players for next year’s team.
The team is getting a lot of attention for the same reason football players have for years.
“The Kahuku mentality is in-your-face defense and a crushing offense,” said the New Zealand native.
“They are strong mentally and physically, but more important is that they are humble enough to learn. I noticed really early that they listen. I tell them the game plan and they will execute it exactly.”
Kahuku began fielding a rugby team in 2003 when then-football coach Suaki Livai was looking for an offseason activity for his players. Competition at the time was sparse, so a complete season was nearly impossible to come by. That is no longer a problem. With nine local high school teams playing rugby and three more to come next season, plus national tournaments, the Red Raiders will have plenty of competition.