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Unmatchable feeling, says Kiria-Ratu

Friday 24 November 2023 | Written by Supplied | Published in League, Pacific Games 2023, Sports


Unmatchable feeling, says Kiria-Ratu
Cook Islands players celebrate their gold medal win. Charlie Ando Bitikolo/Pacific Games News Service/23112327

Titans star Chantay Kiria-Ratu described standing on the podium with a gold medal as an unmatchable feeling after helping Cook Islands to victory in the Pacific Games women’s Rugby League 9s final.

Kiria-Ratu and her Cook Islands teammates avenged their only loss of the three-day tournament, against Tonga, with a 16-8 victory when the two nations met again in the gold medal match on Wednesday night (local time).

Cook Islands took an early lead through captain Toru Arakua and led 8-0 at the break.

The second half saw Tonga make a comeback, with former Kiwi Ferns back Lavinia Tauhalaliku breaking through the Cook Islands defence to score a try.

However, Cook Islands responded with a team effort, leading to Arakua’s second try. Tonga fought hard, with Mele Fotu-Moala scoring again, but Cook Islands held their ground.

With opportunities to win medals in the sport of rugby league being rare, Kiria-Ratu was overawed by the experience.

“I’m lost for words, to be honest. It’s super exciting for our nation and the people back home. We all wanted to go out there and do them proud, and we did that," Kiria-Ratu told the Pacific Games News Service.

She revealed that a disrupted build-up to the tournament had left little time for their four Cook Islands-based players to gel with those coming from Australia and New Zealand, making the win all the more satisfying.

“It has been such a journey with the girls. There were a few who got caught up in delayed flights and that disturbed us, we only got to do one training run altogether and two players arrived late, but the connection we’ve built helped us to be where we are today.”

Claiming silver was an extraordinary triumph for debutantes Tonga, who went through the pool matches unbeaten.

With a squad featuring 10 out of 15 players based in the island nation - and the others resident in New Zealand and Australia - Tonga were the surprise package of the tournament.

Tonga captain Ana Ngahe told the Pacific Games News Service that claiming silver was a remarkable achievement, given the lack of experienced players in the team.

“It has been such an honour and we are so overwhelmed, given that it is our first time playing rugby league [internationally]," she said.

“The girls did well despite their inexperience. We are so grateful we have the privilege to represent our country.”

In a thrilling showdown for women’s bronze, reigning champions Fiji faced off against Samoa.

Fiji were relieved to claim a medal after triumphing 4-0, given they fielded an almost entirely different team to their gold medal-winning side of 2019.

In the men’s competition, reigning champions Fiji had to settle for silver, suffering an 8-0 loss to Samoa in the gold medal match.

Fiji faced a resilient Samoan defence, and despite early attempts, their passing game struggled. Samoa capitalised on opportunities, working their way deep into Fijian territory and scoring the first try. Although Fiji had a disallowed try, Samoa held a 4-0 lead at halftime.

The second half saw both teams giving their all, with a penalty for Samoa leading to an impressive try by Kyran Tanuvasa. Despite Fiji’s determined efforts, Samoa’s defence held firm.

In a physical men’s bronze medal match, Cook Islands defeated Tonga 16-6 in a dominant performance, with tries from Malachi Morgan, Adyn Anguna and Habasaloma Tamarua.

Cook Islands captain Adam Tangata told the Pacific Games News Service: “Credit to the boys, we dug in deep and put on probably the best performance we could.

"We fell short of the gold medal but to come away with the bronze, it’s something that we’ll cherish and honour for the rest of our lives.”