It wasn’t that long ago that Jone Naqica was playing in the National 7s Club Championships.
The former USA 7s captain was a key figure on the San Francisco Golden Gate team in recent years. But a nasty concussion in December, 2009 essentially ended his USA prospects, and a knee injury during the following Super League season put him on the sidelines long-term in 2010.
That’s one reason why Naqica was manning the scoreboard at last year’s national championships. This year, he’s back involved, as coach of SFGG, the #2 seed out of the Pacific Coast and the team that upended highly-favored Old Puget Sound.
SFGG beat the defending champs 22-21 in the Pacific Coast semis, and while they were defeated by Utah in the final, they still have to come into the national tournament, at their own field, full of confidence.
“That was an exciting game,” said Naqica of the match against OPSB. “It was a gutsy win. The boys just refused to lose that game.”
A nifty playmaker not know for his crunching hits as a player, Naqica has put together a team that is very physical and starts it all with defense. He has a hard-nosed group of forwards who have to be physical up front.
“Physicality and patience are keys to winning every game,” he said. “I think we did well at the Pacific Coast championships. We lost to Utah, but they are a really good team and we were playing in Salt Lake City. Playing five games, at altitude, was really tough on the board. We didn’t have a lot of time for recovery. Things will be different on Treasure Island.”
SFGG also saw their leader, Mose Timoteo, hurt in Utah. He will be healthy for this weekend. And he’ll be needed, because SFGG is in the Pool of Death with Utah, Chicago Lions and Glendale.
“It’s nothing new,” laughed Naqica. “We’re always in the Pool of Death. But to be the best you have to beat the best, so we are just going to deal with it.”
Timoteo leads a solid SFGG squad that includes Steve St. Pierre and Danny Barrett in the forwards. Andrea Bola Asuega, and Opeti and Tevita Okusi out wide. Mile Pulu opted to play with East Palo Alto, but Naqica decided not to cry over spilled milk there and simply put together the best team he can. The addition of the experienced Ben Green certainly helps, as does Hector Quiles.
SFGG is deep, which they will need in this pool, and athletic. But, as all the coaches are saying, it’s not just about athleticism.
“We need to play as a team,” Naqica concluded. “We have lot of options and lots of good players. But all of them have to play as a team.”