Their 41-34 win in Dunedin on Friday night not only ensured the Blues still haven’t beaten a New Zealand team since they beat the Highlanders in the opening round of 2016, it locked up the Gordon Hunter Memorial Trophy. New coach Aaron Mauger also tasted a win in his first match in charge of the franchise, not that he would have been able to relax until the Highlanders rebuffed a desperate Blues attack after the buzzer. In a frantic match in which the lead changed hands multiple times, the Highlanders outscored the Blues five tries to four.
Former NRL star expected for Panthers
Former National Rugby League (NRL) prop Sam Mataora is expected to appear for the Tupapa Panthers today in the feature match of round three against the Arorangi Bears at Victoria Park.
Mataora, who retired from the game after 63 appearances last year, has bolstered the Panthers’ campaign for the 2018 season.
Panthers coach Darren Piri confirmed the 27 year old was in the training squad but did not state whether he will make his debut today in the domestic rugby league competition.
Mataora, who hails from Pukapuka, played for the Canberra Raiders before joining the Newcastle Knights in 2015. He also earned seven test caps for the Cook Islands national team.
The Panthers are sharing the lead with the Avatiu Nikao Eels after two wins in the past two rounds.
The side defeated TKV Warriors 38-24 in round one before thrashing the Ngatangiia/Matavera Sea Eagles 56-6 last week.
The Bears, who started their 2018 campaign with a 32-14 win over the Sea Eagles, put on a brave performance against defending champions Titikaveka Bulldogs in round two.
The side came from behind to level the exciting and intense battle 16-all at Teimurimotia Park.
Panthers coach Piri said they were wary of the Bears, adding they expect a tough challenge from them.
“They have a very young team and we are wary of their defence line and ball carriers. We have to counter that in order to come away with the win,” Piri said.
“We have talked about these things during the week and we surely have to raise the tempo of the game from our past two matches.”
Bears stand-in coach Kevin Iro said they were anticipating some dry weather to play the brand of footy they have been training for.
With the sun out yesterday and a sunny day forecasted for the weekend, the Bears might have the perfect ‘hunting ground’ they have been longing for to exhibit their real potential in the competition.
Cook Islands Rugby League Association competition coordinator Taua Benioni said the Panthers versus Bears clash would be an exciting affair given the quality of players in both sides.
“The Panthers may have a bit more weight in their forward pack, especially when recruiting direct from the northern group – Pukapukan and retired NRL and CIRL international Sam Mataora, who will have his first hit up in a while,” Benioni said.
“Bears showed last week with the Bulldogs that the game is 80 minutes and I’m sure they’ll go the whole 85.”
In the other premier match, Eels will be hoping for another big win when they host the Sea Eagles at The Swamp today.
“There is a lot of tidying up for the Sea Eagles, as shown last week, but again when you’re up against a team like them you never know what to expect,” Benioni said.
The round three competition will also feature the junior development matches starting at 11am.
The premier matches will kick off at 4.30pm.
Meanwhile, the Bulldogs were scheduled to play the Aitutaki Sharks yesterday.