The sports legend was this week honoured for playing a pivotal role in actually establishing the sports in this country.
He was one of three people to be recognised as part of the Cook Islands Queen’s Birthday honours presented on Monday. Iro Pae Puna, Rima David and Rau Nga were all recognised for their services to the Cook Islands.
Nga received an OBE for services the community for his involvement with rugby league in the Cook Islands. “I was really proud about the honour being awarded to me. Praise and thanks to the Lord,” Nga says.
“I’m really proud I helped to establish rugby league in the Cook Islands.”
But he insisted on passing the honour out to the wing: “The people who I also want to be honoured for this are Ross Hunter and Eric Pateman, who are the only other surviving founding members of our association.”
The proud Atiuan and Mangaian was originally a rugby union player, having played alongside such legends as All Blacks Colin Meads and Sid Going. A standout moment of his career was winning the Waikato Breweries Shield and going on to win a ‘champions of champions’ tournament against a Petone team composed of legends such as Andy Leslie and John Dougan.
However, Nga was eventually introduced to rugby league in Tokoroa, through his friend and former New Zealand High Commissioner to the Cook Islands, the late Brian Donnelly.
“It was a wonderful time of my life. I am really appreciative of my wife who stood behind and supported me the entire way,” says Nga.
He has also been president of the Cook Islands Party and is currently a board member of the Business Trade and Investment Board, as well as a pastor of the Cook Islands Christian Church in Ngatangiia.
Rima David was recognised for her services to the public sector, especially as former registrar of the high court and as a Justice of the Peace, as well as for her community work in the village of Ngatangiia
David’s first role was as a typist for the government, which she began in 1958. A decade later, David was transferred to the land division of the Department of Justice. She stayed there until 2001, eventually working her way up to become a Justice of the Peace.
Iro Pae Puna, who was awarded a MBE for services to the public service and the community, said he found out about his award only on Monday. He began working for the public sector in the 1960s, initially as an interpreter for the government. In 1968, Puna took the initiative to begin establishing probationary services in the Cook Islands. “I started by myself, with no one to help to me,” he says.
Puna went on to hold various positions in public service, as well as serving as the secretary to Cabinet under the leadership of former prime minister Sir Geoffrey Henry – a position he is particularly fond of.
“He was a good man” Puna says, reminiscing on his time with Henry.
Puna was made public service commissioner in 1992 and eventually retired in 1996.