Former champions the Avatiu Nikao Eels are ready to take on the visiting Aitutaki Sharks in what is expected to be a thrilling opener to the season.
Tomorrow, the Arorangi Bears will host the Ngatangiia/Matavera Sea Eagles, while Tupapa Panthers will take on TKV Warriors at Victoria Park.
Defending champions Titikaveka Bulldogs are on a bye this weekend.
Cook Islands Rugby League Association competition coordinator Taua Benioni said that, as usual, they had some “teething issues” to get past before the start of the season.
But he said they were pleased to overcome those issues to ensure a smooth start to the 2018 club competition.
The Eels look the better of the two teams in the opening match, but the Sharks have proven that they are a tough nut to crack in the early rounds of the competition.
“I know nothing of what the Sharks have been up to in preparation for this match other than their win last year at home (against the Eels), which will surely be a boost for them,” Benioni said.
“Their new coach Arthur Emile must have surely come up with some strategies but rest assured – the less you know, the bigger the surprise.”
Benioni said the Sharks would still face a massive test against the Eels.
The Eels have been training under the guidance of Terry Piri, who replaced the successful Albert Nicholas as coach for the 2018 season.
In tomorrow’s feature match, the Bears will be hoping for a perfect start to their campaign against the unknown Sea Eagles.
The Bears enjoyed a perfect pre-season after finishing runner-up in the CIRLA Nines tournament last month.
“Bears proved they are taking this season seriously after finishing runners-up in the Nines and I’m pretty sure they’ve carried that through their preparation leading up to Saturday’s home game against the Ngatangiia Sea Eagles,” said Benioni.
“Captain Tama Tuavera (Sea Eagles) has a handful of senior players, but with a great following as usual, they’re not heading to bear country to swat at bees. The Sea Eagles’ preparation has been dormant and flying low with players unknown, but we never underestimate them.”
In the other interesting tussle, neighbouring sides the Panthers and Warriors will go head to head in what is expected to be a fierce derby match.
“Going on what we saw during the Nines, I see no advantage to both teams given the players they have. They both did extremely well,” said Benioni.
“I have to say with all his experience, Darren Piri may have done enough for their first win,” he added.
“However, Warriors coach Nia Petero may turn the tide for them in his first premier match here in the Cook Islands.”
Benioni said the CIRLA wished the players, coaches and supporters their best in the opening round.
There will be no reserves and junior matches this weekend.