On Saturday at the National Stadium in Nikao, the Panthers came from behind to beat Avatiu Eels 24-20 to make it through to the grand finale. In the showdown, the side will take on the unbeaten Ngatangiia Matavera Sea Eagles.
Against the Eels, the Panthers made a superb start, scoring three tries in the opening spell to lead 14-2 at the break.
The Darren Piri-coached side dominated possession and also had territorial advantage to put pressure on the struggling Eels. The Eels were unable to do much with the little opportunities they created and were left playing catch up against the sharp looking Panthers.
Panthers’ forward stood out, leading the attack and were well supported by their reliable backline speedsters as they barged through the Eels wall.
In the second half, the Eels looked an improved side and with a bit of possession, they managed to get back into the game with consecutive tries to lead 18-14.
In the final quarter of the match, the Panthers managed to cross the line through Jovilisi Naqitawa to level the score 18-all.
The Eels capitalised on Panthers’ indiscipline and Logan Perenise stepped up to slot home the penalty and give his side a slender 20-18 advantage.
With about 10 minutes remaining, the Panthers managed to get their act together and some sublime play from their backline players gave way to Seruvi Ralulu to dive over in the corner for the winning try. Othniel Joseph kicked the extra two points to give the Panthers the 24-20 victory.
The Eels tried hard but indiscipline which has been their biggest downfall this season came back to haunt them as the Panthers held on to keep their title defense hopes alive.
Panthers coach Piri praised his players for fighting until the end to claim the important win.
“We were leading 14-2 but the Eels came back into the game because of some little errors we made in the match. I think it was just the lack of concentration from us that allowed the Eels to pick up some pace and play their game,” Piri said.
“Hats off to the Eels for a good game as well as our boys for sticking in there until the last minute.”
Piri said they had some injuries in the team which they would work on this week along with some areas of concern before the big match against the Sea Eagles.
Cook Islands Rugby League competition coordinator Tai Nelio was impressed with the semi-final matches over the weekend.
Nelio said both the reserves and the premier grade semis proved a spectacle for the fans.
“I think it was the lack of discipline especially in the final stage of the match that came back to haunt the Eels and robbed them the win,” Nelio said.
“But Panthers played well and they finished strongly in the end to claim the win. This sets them up for an interesting final against the Sea Eagles.”
In the reserves grade, the Sea Eagles surprised the much favoured Panthers, winning 18-14 to make it through to the final. In the final, the side will play Titikaveka Bulldogs.
U9/11 – Tupapa Panthers 3 Arorangi Bears 3, U9/11 – Nga/Mat Sea Eagles 1 Avatiu Eels 1; U13 – Nga/Mat Sea Eagles 16 Arorangi Bears 20; U16 – Nga/Mat Sea Eagles 10 Arorangi Bears 46; U19 Arorangi Bears 26 Nga/Mat Sea Eagles 18; Reserves – Tupapa Panthers 14 Nga/Mat Sea Eagles 18; Premier – Tupapa Panthers 24 Avatiu Eels 20