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Talismanic Totori boosts Lautoka

Benjamin Totori in action for Western United last season against Auckland City FC. Credit: OFC via Phototek

Benjamin Totori is aiming to continue a remarkable scoring record in the OFC Champions League when Group C kicks off at Trusts Stadium in Auckland on Sunday.

The 32-year-old Solomon Islands striker stands alone as the top scorer in Oceania club competition having netted 22 times across a 13-year association with the OFC Champions League and its various incarnations over that time. Former Auckland City FC striker Joao Moreria is next on 19 goals with Keryn Jordan and Daniel Koprivcic not far behind.

Adding an extra feather in the Torori’s cap is that his goals have come for four different clubs – an unprecedented achievement in itself – in New Zealand and the Solomon Islands beginning with a golden boot-winning campaign with YoungHeart Manawatu in 2005 before multiple forays with Waitakere United and Koloale and last year’s effort with Western United.

This year, Totori has been signed for Lautoka as the Fijian club returns to the OFC Champions League for the first time since the 2010-11 season hoping that Totori’s record will extend to a fifth club and help propel the Baby Blues to the quarterfinals.

While some players may play coy when it comes to milestones, a goal-hungry Totori – who has won golden boot trophies in New Zealand and his homeland and enjoyed professional stints with the Portland Timbers and Wellington Phoenix – doesn’t shy away from the numbers game.

After all, the champions league record is one of which the former OFC Champions League winner is very proud and looking to extend.

“I’m aiming to add to that tally during this tournament, for sure,” Totori says.

“That is my intention coming into the champions league – it’s in the back of my mind but I have to do my job first.”

Totori’s job, as he sees it, is to help others benefit from his experience, especially when many of his teammates have never had to face the jump to OFC Champions League football, let alone take on a group that includes nine-time winners Auckland City in their backyard.

“Coming in to this team, who are back in the champions league after quite a while and want to make it to the quarterfinals… for me I have got the experience, but I need help from the boys to deliver. I’ve been talking to them, helping them out, talking them through what each game in the group is – every game is important – but obviously if we win the first one it’ll set us up well.”

Former New Zealand age-group representative Cory Chettleburgh and well-travelled Vanuatu international defender Brian Kaltack are the other foreign players in the Lautoka squad and Totori believes the additions round out the squad nicely.

“I’m really looking forward to it and prepared myself physically as well. The team has been training well for the past few months and with the inclusion of the three overseas players this team can make an impact.”

Having tasted the highs of lifting the trophy with Waitakere United and heart-breaking exits at various stages of the competition Totori is well-placed to judge the impact of expanding the format to include a quarterfinal stage this season with the top two from each group progressing.

“Last season we [Western United] lost to Auckland City 2-1 and we thought had the edge to go to the next stage but it wasn’t to be [after finishing second]. This time the format will make the completion lively and will make it even tougher in terms of teams having the chance to go to the semi-finals.”

Totori and his Lautoka teammates look to take their first steps towards the quarterfinals when they play Papua New Guinea side Madang FC at 1pm on Sunday at Auckland’s Trusts Stadium.

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