Tupapa Panthers overcame a jittery start to get their 2018 rugby union season going on a high with a win against former champions Takuvaine Reds in round one of the competition over the weekend.
In The Bond Store match of the week held on Saturday at the Happy Valley Field, Panthers put on an improved performance in the second spell to walk away with a 30-18 win in the Senior A battle, which was played under slippery conditions.
In the other Senior A clash, defending champions Avatiu Nikao Eels overcame Arorangi Cowboys 15-0 at The Swamp.
Panthers were left backpedalling as the determined-looking hosts made a strong start to head into a 3-0 lead from an early Viiga Ruepena penalty.
But the visitors replied immediately from the boot of Othneil Joseph to level the score at three-all before a brilliant chip and chase from Ruepena gave the Reds a 10-3 lead.
Panthers were continuously penalised for infringements in the ruck area and Ruepena cashed in on this after successfully kicking his second penalty to extend the lead to 13-3.
A Sam Mataora-converted try and penalty from Joseph saw the Panthers fight their way back into the match to level terms 13-all at the break.
Panthers were a much better side in the second half. They started playing with a bit of rhythm and made some superb breaks to score two tries against the run of play to put themselves in the driving seat.
Midfielder Jovilisi Naqitawa scored from the kickoff and shortly after a desperate Panthers clearance kick from their own red-zone fell in their favour as a fumble by the Reds defence allowed busy flanker Filipo Schmidt to sneak in for the team’s third try.
Lanky Thomas Toa sealed the Panthers’ win with the team’s fourth try in the final quarter of the match but the Reds ensured that they had the final say with winger Joshua Koroi crossing the line for a consolation try.
Reds were unlucky to lose 18-30, as they created plenty of opportunities but lacked the execution to turn those chances into much-needed points.
“They (Reds) showed plenty of heart and were unlucky not to score on several occasions, including being held up over the tryline and also a player dropping the ball on the tryline after hitting into the side of the goalposts when diving over,” Cook Islands Rugby Union development manager Ben Koteka said.
Standout players for the Reds were skilful utility back Ruepena, hooker Murare John and loose forward Tautua Solomona.
For the Panthers, prop John Vano, loose forward Thomas Toa and left winger Rangi Piri put on an impressive performance.
More photos from Saturday’s game on p14.
Results: Tupapa Panthers: 30 - Tries: Sam Mataora, Jovilisi Naqitawa, Filipo Schmidt, Thomas Toa; Conv: Othneil Joseph (2); Pen: Othneil Joseph (2). Takuvaine Reds: 18 - Tries: Viiga Ruepena, Joshua Koroi; Conv: Viiga Ruepena; Pen: Viiga Ruepena (2).
Avatiu Eels 15 v Arorangi Cowboys 0. (Avatiu Eels led 12-nil at halftime.)
Darren Piri and Bobby Hansen have been appointed co-coaches of the Cook Islands Residents rugby league team for the Tri-Series in October this year.
Despite making a losing debut for the Kiwis about a fortnight ago, Cook Islander Esan Marsters is upbeat about better days ahead in the black jumper.
Cook Islander Esan Marsters is set to make his debut for the Kiwis after being included in the New Zealand side for the Test match against England on June 23 in Denver.
Daniel Toa was frank with his reply when asked if he thought Ngatangiia Matavera Sea Eagles would have made it to the grand final given their poor form at the start of the season.
Avatiu Nikao Eels will have a lot to fight for when they take on Tupapa Panthers in the premier reserve grade final tomorrow at the BCI Stadium.