The junior netball tournament for 16 and under and 21 and under netters has been born out of the belief that our tiny island nation contains untapped sporting talent and that we can do more to develop the pool of junior netballers in the Cook Islands.
Not so long ago, Cook Islands netters were crowned “Queens” of Pacific netball and at the 1991 Netball World Championships, Cook Islands netball achieved a final ranking of fifth - the highest ranking of any Pacific netball nation at any championship.
This achievement saw the Cook Islands ranked 10th in the world by the International Netball Federation. However in recent years, the Cook Islands has struggled to return to its once illustrious netball status.
In 2011 and 2015, the Cook Islands national netball squad failed to qualify for the World Championships to reduce the Cook Islands world ranking to 23 out of 34 netball nations.
On the domestic front, the club competition has also suffered.
But now passionate local sportsman Teina Rongo has proposed an ambitious idea to reinvigorate netball in the Cook Islands through the creation of the Rising Stars Netball Championship.
For doctor of marine science and passionate sportsman and father of budding netball stars, Rongo, the new junior netball tournament is part of a long-term vision of lifting the standards of netball in the Cook Islands from player development and upskilling coaches and officials, from the club netball level to international standards.
He believes netball’s past success was partly due to the grassroots influence from village club supporters, which has wavered since the domestic netball competition was moved from the traditional club courts. To draw community support back to netball, the junior tournament will take netball back to the village club courts.
The tournament schedule, to be staged over 13 weeks, will run side by side with the Cook Islands rugby union season and take the tournament back to the days when the two codes worked together and involved the community.
The overall objectives of the inaugural Rising Stars Netball Championship are to provide an opportunity for talented junior netters to develop their skills, to create a professional tournament to attract young netters back to the sport, bring netball interests back into the communities to foster grassroots support and to develop and strengthen local-based netters for selection into the national squad.
So far, event organisers have the support of the national netball body Netball Cook Islands, as well as sponsors Bank of the Cook Islands (BCI) and Bluesky.
The event’s opening ceremony will be launched this Wednesday at the Punanga Nui market at 6 pm, with the tournament shooting into action next Saturday. All are welcome to attend and support this potluck event.
Village netball courts have been a buzz of training and fitness sessions as enthusiastic junior netters lace up for 13 more weeks of thrilling local netball. For progress updates, tournament news and a tournament schedule, check out the Rising Stars Netball Championship Facebook page.
Defending champs Reds set for a tough start
Defending Senior A champions Takuvaine Reds could be in for a surprise against a resurgent Avatiu/Nikao Eels in the opening round of the Bond Store Rarotonga Club 15s season today.
The Vase Samania-coached side, which scrapped past the Eels in the final last year, will be hoping to get their season to a perfect start in the feature match of the round.
But the Travel Tou Jr-skippered side will be without some of their key players who have left the club for New Zealand while others have joined the neighbouring Tupapa Panthers side.
One of their prominent player, promising national 15s prop Vaike Potoru has signed a rugby contract in New Zealand to play for Wairapa Bush in the Heartland competition.
Potoru together with instrumental skipper Tou Jr were outstanding members of the forward pack last year.
Coach Samania will be relying on his remaining players from last year and their Fijian recruits along with the Samoan players who are expected to feature in today’s clash.
“We have lost some of our top players but we will try our best. We know the Eels will come prepared and we will do our best to defend our turf.”
The Eels, who went down in last year’s final 12-13, will be out to avenge the heartbreaking loss.
The team is expected to be boosted with the inclusion of some of their league players, which handed Eels another great win in the season earlier this month. In the other Senior A clashes today, Titikaveka Bulls will take on Tupapa Panthers in Titikaveka while Ngatangiia/Matavera Sea Eagles will host Arorangi Cowboys.
Cook Islands Rugby Union chief executive officer Ben Koteka is calling on fans to turn out and support their teams.
The Senior A matches will kick off at 4pm.
Titikaveka Bulls-Tupapa Panthers at Titikaveka Field – 2.30pm Senior B (Refs Junior Takairangi, Assistant Refs: Tutai Taurarii/Dawn Crummer), 4pm Senior A (Refs: Tua Ngaputa, Assistant Refs: Tutai Taurarii/Junior Takairangi); Takuvaine Reds-Avatiu/Nikao Eels at Takuvaine Field - The Bond Store - Game of the Week - 1pm Junior Programme: Under 11s and Under 9s (Club Officials), 2pm U13 (Refs: Teokotai Tuaivi, Assist Ref: Club Officials), 3pm U16 (Refs: Paul Allsworth, Assist Ref: Tangata Samania/William Taripo), 4pm Senior A (Refs: Arthur Emile, Assist Ref: Paul Allsworth/Ben Koteka); Ngatangiia/Matavera Sea Eagles-Arorangi Cowboys at Ngatangiia Field - 4pm Senior A (Refs: William Povaru, Assist Ref: Simiona Teiotu/Poto Ngaroi, Referee Coordinator: Robert Graham)