Ngatangiia Dragons will not be fielding their Senior A team, which leaves defending champions Avatiu-Nikao Eels, Takuvaine Reds, Tupapa Panthers, Arorangi Cowboys and Titikaveka Bulls to fight it out for the domestic title.
Cook Islands Rugby Union development manager Ben Koteka said that despite being a team down, they were expecting an intense battle in the 2018 season.
“With five teams in the Senior A competition, we will have a good distribution of players which should make the competition an exciting one,” Koteka said.
“We are also anticipating some shift in players which will surely give some clubs an edge in the competition.”
In the opening round battle today, former champions Takuvaine Reds will host Tupapa Panthers in The Bond Store match of the week at the Happy Valley Field.
“Being the first game of the season, it will be interesting to see player movement and team cohesion – as well as discipline and match fitness,” Koteka said.
Reds will rely on the likes of national prop Vaike Potoru and utility back Viiga Ruepena, while the Panthers will be led by national lock James Kora and halves Othneil Joseph and Jamian Iroa.
In the other Senior A match, Eels will host the Cowboys at The Swamp.
Koteka said the Eels would head into the match as the favourites based on their recent performance.
National reps, lock/flanker Tokerau Raru and Tamarua Nicholas, and strong-running midfielder Lai Rogorogoivalu will be the key players for the Eels, while the Cowboys will be relying on loose forwards Robert Heather Jr and rookie Tanire Mokoroa, as well as utility back and Cook Islands sevens skipper, captain Stephen Willis.
Meanwhile, Bank South Pacific yesterday presented CIRU with 40 new rugby balls to help them out this season. Koteka thanked BSP for their support in the development of rugby.
Happy Valley Field: 11am Junior U11 and U12, all clubs (Ref: Club Officials); 12pm U13 Avatiu-Nikao v Arorangi Cowboys (Ref: Club Officials); 12.45pm Under 13 Tupapa Panthers v Takuvaine Reds (Ref: Club Officials); 1.30pm Under 16 Tupapa Panthers v Ngatangiia-Matavera Dragons (Ref: Ben Koteka, Assist Refs: Paul Peyroux/Toru Orii); 2.30pm Under 19 Takuvaine Reds v Ngatangiia-Matavera Dragons (Ref: Arthur Emile, Assist Refs: Paul Peyroux/Toru Orii); 4pm Senior A Takuvaine Reds v Tupapa Panthers (Ref: Teokotai Tuaivi Jnr, Assist Refs: Paul Allsworth/Arthur Emile).
Avatiu Field: 2.30pm Senior Reserve Avatiu-Nikao v Arorangi Cowboys (Ref: Abel Masters, Assist Refs: William Taripo/Dawn Crummer); 4pm Senior A Avatiu-Nikao v Arorangi Cowboys (Ref: Tua Ngaputa, Assist Refs: Abel Masters/Tutai Taurarii).