Off-field drama mars the start of the 2020 rugby league season after the referees association decided not to officiate this year’s competition.
However the Cook Islands Rugby League Association says the eleventh hour decision from the Rugby League Referees Association will not affect round one Raro Cars sponsored competition which kicks off today at 4.30pm.
Competition coordinator Tai Nelio said the referees association decided not to officiate any games this year due to an incident that happened at the Nines tournament last month.
It is alleged that a player “grabbed a referee with both hands” at the end of the two-day tournament held at the National Stadium in Nikao.
The referees association is reportedly disappointed in the lack of action against the player from the national rugby league body. Efforts to get comments from referee’s association acting chairman Steven Willis proved futile after calls made to him last night remained unanswered.
But Tai Nelio said the Cook Islands Rugby League had “already dealt the matter as per the League Nines manual”.
The incident involving an Avatiu Eels player took place after the final match between the Eels and eventual winners Arorangi Bears, he said.
“In the Nines rules, any such incidents must be witnessed by officials, not the players, it has to be either the match officials or other league officials. However the two touch umpires have no idea, the incident was not witnessed by them or by any league official so in this case, as per the Nines manual, it hasn’t happened,” Nelio said.
“The reported incident took place after the game. Everyone, the players and officials, were coming off the field for the presentation when this happened. I think that is why there are no legitimate witnesses to this alleged incident.”
Nelio said the Cook Islands Rugby League Association would make the necessary arrangements to ensure the round one games continue uninterrupted.
Earlier two clubs – Aitutaki Sharks and Takuvaine Warriors – pulled out of the 2020 season due to lack of players and other reasons.
At the annual general meeting held last week, Takuvaine executives told Cook Islands Rugby League Association that they do not have enough players to field a team in this year’s domestic competition.
Vasie Ngatoko-Poila, the president of Takuvaine-Tutakimoa Sports and Cultural Association, earlier said a number of factors led to their decision to withdraw the team.
“There are a number of compounding reasons and lack of players is one of them. The plan is to take a break and revive the sport, not only league but other sporting code in the community,” Ngatoko-Poila earlier said.
“There is still much interest in our community in any sports code, be it soccer, netball, rugby league or union but at this point in time, we would like to get together to strategise the progress and development of sports in our community.”
The Sharks earlier pulled out after their executives, who subsequently resigned, acknowledged they were not in a position to front up with a team in the upcoming season.
Despite the setbacks, Tai Nelio said they were anticipating a tough and exciting season.
In today’s round one clashes, former champions Tupapa Panthers will host Titikaveka Bulldogs at Victoria Park while Arorangi Bears will take on Avatiu Eels at Raemaru Park.
Defending champions Ngatangiia Matavera Sea Eagles are on a bye this weekend.
“It’s early in the season so we cannot say who the favourites are in these matches but surely we can expect a tough and exciting clash between these teams,” Nelio said.
“We are hoping the fans turn out in big numbers to support their teams.”