The derby clash between the host Avatiu Nikao Eels and Tupapa Panthers failed to live up to expectations as the visitors walked away with a 34-17 at The Swamp to lead the points table.
Apart from occasional exciting moments, the match proved a boring affair and lacked the intensity expected of The Bond Store match of the week.
Derailed by a below par turnout from the spectators, most of who seemed to have chosen the gig at the Happy Valley over rugby, the two teams put on a sluggish performance, apart from rare glimpses of brilliance, in the encounter.
Emotion seemed to have got the better of the Eels as their intentions appeared something other than winning the match.
The Panthers came with a mission to win and achieved that goal without working too hard for it.
Panthers raced to a 19-7 lead at the break thanks to a brace of tries from their new signing Tua Ravula, formerly of the Eels.
The Eels camp before the match expressed their disappointment on Ravula making the switch and his loss was surely felt by them as they failed to mount pressure from their backline play.
Ravula, who played at centre, scored the opening try of the match after a perfect break from Jamain Iroa.
Minutes later, Panthers was awarded a penalty try after their winger Jovilisi Naqitawa was brought down in a high tackle, close to the try line.
The on-song Ravula sliced his way for his second try and the Panthers’ third, before the Eels managed to score one. Panthers headed into the break with a healthy 19-5 lead.
The Panthers maintained their momentum, dominating play in the early second spell and scored two more tries from a gutsy Naqitawa before the Eels hit back with a double, but it proved too little, too late for them.
A penalty from Othneil Joseph, who also managed three conversions in the dying stages of the match, sealed the 34-17 win for the Panthers.
A player each from Panthers and the Eels were sinbinned for a tussle in the second half.
“The stop-start Eels seemed to lack direction and were not helped with the early exit (due to injury) of their coach-player Clive Nicholas in the first quarter of this match,” said Cook Islands Rugby Union development manager Ben Koteka in his match report.
“A couple of the Panthers’ tries were scored from Eels turnover ball via a tighthead scrum and also stolen lineout ball. To their credit though, the Eels did not give up and were rewarded with two pick and go tries to their big mobile forwards Stan Toba and Toru Katuke.”
Eels number 8 Tokerau Raru, who was tireless in attack and defence, big mobile prop Stan Tobia and loose forward Tamanui Nicholas were outstanding for the side, while for the Panthers, debutante Ravula and Naqitawa stood out.
In the other Senior A match played at Teimurimotia Park, former champions Takuvaine Reds managed to get the first win in the competition, beating Titikaveka Bulls 20-14.
Tupapa Panthers: 34 (Tries: Jovelisi Naqitawa*(3) & Tua Ravula (2), Conv: Othneil Joseph (3), Pen: O Joseph *includes a penalty try) Avatiu Eels: 17 (Tries: Stanley Tobia, Toru Katuke & Joshua Motu, Conv: Vahe Leki);
Takuvaine Reds: 20 (Tries: Stormel Ruatoe (2) & John Penu (2) Titikaveka Bulls: 14 (Tries: Eddie Quo (2), Conv: Daniel Toa (2)