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Men’s Touch team puts faith in youth for Pacific Game

Saturday 28 October 2023 | Written by Supplied | Published in Features, Pacific Games 2023, Sports, Weekend


Men’s Touch team puts faith in youth for Pacific Game
Cook Islands open men’s touch team to the upcoming Pacific Games in the Solomon Islands. SUPPLIED/23102506

The Cook Islands open men’s touch team is gearing up for next month’s Pacific Games in the Solomon Islands with a squad dominated by youth.

Tuakana Ngametua, who is still at school, and numerous others, such as Maka Maui Junior, John Noovao, and Oscar Wichman, just fresh out of school, are making positive improvements each training session.

“With a number of experienced players either retiring, unavailable, or relocating to New Zealand and Australia for work, this campaign has paved the way for our local-based youth in Rarotonga to develop and step up,” said Geoff Halston, the men’s coach.

In a bold move, 10 players out of the squad of 14 are set to represent the Cook Islands as debutants, stepping onto the international Open Touch stage at the Pacific Games for the first time.

The team’s management sees this as a visionary step towards the future, providing invaluable high-level exposure to these budding talents.

Leading the way will be veterans Puna Hiro and Vou Williams.

Hiro said that the team will take a “one game at a time approach” because they are essentially a new team.

Their strategy is to build a solid foundation by sticking to the basics, with a focus on their systems and play, rather than the opposition and results. This emphasises the importance of the young squad gaining exposure by playing under pressure, achieving process goals, and gaining experience at a prestigious tournament like the Pacific Games, says Halston.

In a competition where the level of touch has really grown in the region over the last 10 years, seasoned campaigners like Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, and Niue boast a line-up of well-drilled and experienced players, many of whom played in the last Touch World Cup, previous Pacific Games, and play overseas in Australia and New Zealand.

This particular Cook Islands’ team stands out with its youthful exuberance.

“With only a small playing number base here in Rarotonga, and the residency eligibility criteria of five years, we have no option but to field a predominantly island-based squad, so this put the onus on our local Touch Community to identify and develop our grassroots playing base here, to be as competitive as possible,” said Vou Williams.

Remarkably, 12 out of the 14 players in the squad are based in Rarotonga, showcasing the depth of youth keen to play, with two overseas-based players relocating to Australia and New Zealand for employment during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Team manager Noel Mani expressed excitement about the team’s progress, emphasising that they are looking to the future by providing an opportunity for their youth.

“We believe in nurturing our local talent, and this tournament is a stepping stone for these young players to higher representation and possibly towards the pinnacle of Touch – the World Cup next year in Nottingham, England.

“While our competitors may have the edge in experience, we bring the energy and hunger to make a mark,” Mani said.

As the Cook Islands open men’s touch rugby team embarks on this tough yet enriching journey to the 2023 Pacific Games, they are grateful for the support from friends, family, sponsors, and the whole of the Cook Islands.

The 2023 Pacific Games will be held from 19 November to 2 December in Honiara.