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Bears, Eels off to flying start

Monday 8 July 2024 | Written by Solomone Taukei | Published in Rugby Union, Sports


Bears, Eels off to flying start
Avatiu Nikao Eels narrowly defeated Tupapa Panthers 16-13 in round one of the Cook Islands Rugby Union Premiership at Victoria Park in Tupapa. SOLO TAUKEI/24070707

The Cook Island Rugby Union Premiership kicked off with thrilling performances from the Arorangi Bears, Titikaveka Bulldogs, Avatiu Eels, and Tupapa Panthers, with standout contributions from several players.

A strong start for the Bears this season as they ran down the determined Bulldogs in a 45-17 victory.

The Bears’ victory was spearheaded by the impressive Heather brothers – Rob, Taua, and Heath – who collectively scored five tries.

Robert and Taua each contributed two tries, with Heath adding another, highlighting their dominance on the field. Hooker Rob Heather and prop Daniel Tonorio were pivotal in the Bears’ success, demonstrating strength in the scrums and lineouts.

Despite the Bulldogs’ competitive spirit, they struggled in set pieces, which proved costly. Number 8 Ngamata Miriau was notable for his abrasive play, while the young backline, including Tangi Akava and the midfield pairing of Kaleb Chase and Ryan Daniel, showed promise. Akava and Daniel managed to score tries for the Bulldogs, with Tave Tereapii adding two conversions and a penalty.

At halftime, the Bears led 21-10, maintaining their momentum in the second half to secure a decisive victory. The Bears’ scoring spree was complemented by tries from Nia Remuera Jr and Albert Edwards, with Parau Ellis successfully converting five tries.

Bears coach Tavake Manuel shared: “We had to keep it simple as the boys had just come out of league season, most of them were still unfit and main thing was having all the boys on the same page in regards to finish off with a win and some good tries.”

In another match, a closely contested tussle between the 2023 grand finalists Tupapa Panthers and Avatiu Nikao Eels, was held on Saturday afternoon at Victoria Park in Tupapa.

The Eels narrowly triumphed over the Panthers 16-13.

The Eels’ early lead came from a line break by midfielder Tevita Niusama, who set up fullback Tamatoa Nicholas for a try, converted by Viiga Reupena. Reupena’s precision with three penalty goals, including a crucial 76th minute kick, sealed the Eels’ close win.

The Panthers matched the Eels’ intensity, with number 8 Filimoni Laitiavura scoring their opening try, converted by Daniel Toa. The scoreline remained tight throughout, with ties at 7-all, 10-all, and 13-all.

Despite a last-minute penalty opportunity, the Panthers fell short as their reliable goalkicker missed a 35-metre shot.

For the Panthers, inside centre Fereti Anau, Laitiavura, and prop Davey Mato stood out with their strong performances. The Eels benefitted from the contributions of fullback Nicholas, loose forward Adyn Kapi, and the crafty first five eighth Reupena. The Eels’ bench, strengthened by last year’s U19 players, showcased the depth of young talent ready to make an impact.

CIRU development manager Ben Koteka highlighted the importance of development rugby matches for children which were also held on Saturday.

“Our aim is to not only develop their skills but also instill World Rugby values and lifelong skills in these young players. This will be a major buildup for rugby’s future in the Cook Islands.”

Koteka further explained that these efforts are not just about creating better rugby players but also about fostering personal growth and community values.

Additionally, Koteka emphasised the significance of the Maine Tueporo event, which featured under-18 girls representing two developmental teams focused on skill enhancement for young girls in women's rugby. This initiative underscores CIRU’s commitment to promoting and nurturing young talent in the sport.

“The Maine Tueporo is a crucial step in developing women’s rugby here. By focusing on young girls, we are ensuring a strong and vibrant future for the sport,” Koteka remarked.


Arorangi Bears: 45 (Tries; Taua Heather [2], Robert Heather [2], Heath Heather, Nia Remuera Jnr & Albert Edwards. Conv: Parau Ellis [5]) Titikaveka Bulldogs: 17 (Tries; Tangi Akava & Ryan Daniel   Conv: Tave Tereapii [2] Pen: T Tereapii)

Avatiu Eels: 16 (Try: Tamatoa Nicholas. Conv: Viiga Reupena Pen: V Reupena [3]) Tupapa Panthers: 13 (Try: Filimoni Laitiavura. Conv: Daniel Toa. Pen: D Toa [2])