Family means everything to budding rugby players Tamatoa Nicholas and Maeva Robati.
And when it comes to continuing their family legacy, especially in sports, they are ready to put their bodies on the line.
Tamatoa, 17, and Maeva, 16, have always harboured dreams of emulating the feat of their grandfathers.
The late Sir Geoffrey Henry and Sir Pupuke Robati were both former prime ministers of this country. Sir Geoffrey was also a staunch rugby supporter at club and national level, and Sir Pupuke was a champion boxer.
Tamatoa’s paternal grandfather, the late Albert Nicholas Sr, was renowned for his contribution to martial arts in Cook Islands. Nicholas Sr was also a politician, and served as the MP for Avatiu.
But politics doesn’t interest their grandsons. They say if there is any way they want to keep the dynasty going, it will be through sports – rugby in particular.
Tamatoa and Maeva, who are also cousins, received a major boost in their pursuit to keep the family tradition going after gaining rugby scholarships with Christchurch-based Rangiora High School.
The duo were scouted at the under-19 rugby series held between Aitutaki and Rarotonga on Aitutaki last year.
Rangiora High School 1st XV coach Craig Mullan was in the country to scout the next generation of Cook Islands boys to join the school’s student development programme.
Tamatoa and Maeva, who featured for Rarotonga, caught Mullan’s attention.
They two left the country yesterday with high hopes of making the most of this opportunity.
“I started playing rugby when I was 11 or 12 years old. I began with Avatiu club at the age group level and have played in the U19 division, B-grade and a couple of A-grade matches,” says Tamatoa, who usually plays on the wings or at centre.
“Rugby is my first love. My family encouraged me to play other sports but its rugby that excited me the most.”
Maeva started his rugby with Avatiu before moving to Arorangi. He also played in the age group level at the domestic competitions.
“For me, it’s all about keeping the family tradition alive,” he says.
Tamatoa hopes this scholarship is a stepping stone to his ultimate dream of playing professional rugby.
He paid tribute to his uncles for training him and has vowed not to let their sacrifices go in vain.
“My two uncles, Uncle Lui and Uncle Clive Nicholas, they have been my inspiration so I look up to them. I stayed with Uncle Clive for a couple of years and he trained me for this,” says Tamatoa.
“The club Avatiu also helped me and they are responsible for everything that I have accomplished in rugby.”
For Maeva, securing a rugby scholarship is everything he wished for.
“I have reached my goal. Now I will focus on what I have and set some new goals in order to become a better rugby player and a better person.”
Rangiora High School has hosted Cook Islands boys each year since 2012 for the Cook Islands Student Development Programme through rugby.
The most recent success has been with Jermaine Pepe, who arrived at Rangiora High School in 2018.
After 1st XV selection, Pepe was invited to attend the Crusaders schools’ development camp and gained selection in the Crusaders regional secondary school team. He was the only Rangiora High School player to make it.
His contribution saw the Rangiora High School 1st XV make the New Zealand co-ed schools’ final – a first for the school.
Pepe achieved Level 2 NCEA by the end of 2018 and was appointed deputy head boy for 2019 – an enormous accomplishment after just one year in a school of 1750 students.
Tamatoa and Maeva agree Pepe’s achievement has set a new benchmark but they are ready for that challenge.
Maeva says, “Jermaine has set a standard for other Cook Islanders who will come through the programme. Personally, it’s a good thing for us, it will only push us to do better and we are looking forward to the challenge.”
In Canterbury, the duo will be staying with Rangiora scout Craig Mullan’s family.
They have been in contact with each other and were looking forward to meeting their new family next week.
“They have already got our room ready,” says Tamatoa, who has claimed the top bunk of the twin bunk bed they will share.
“Sharing the room is no problem for me. We don’t get rooms here, we sleep all over the place.”
While the duo are excited about their new journey, they are also sad to leave their loved ones behind.
Tamatoa says just being able to drive around the corner to his aunties’ and cousins’ house is something he will miss.
For Maeva, apart from his family, it’s the homemade food – umu and especially ika mata.
“I have been learning how to make ika mata so when I get there, at least I feel a bit closer to home.”