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19 July 2022

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Calm before the storm

Saturday 23 July 2022 | Written by Rashneel Kumar | Published in Rugby Union, Sports

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Calm before the storm
Avatiu Eels skipper Leki Vahefoou and Tupapa Panthers’ Lua Tua poses with the Rarotonga Club 15s trophy. Photo: CI NEWS/22072230

Defending champions Tupapa Panthers are eyeing a rare five in a row win when they take on arch-rivals Avatiu Nikao Eels in the Rarotonga Club 15s final this afternoon at Victoria Park.

After a disappointing start in round one where the Panthers lost their matches to the Eels and Arorangi Bears, the Darren Piri-coached side sprang to life in round two winning the last three matches to reach the final.

Today they will face the Eels for the third time this season in their bid to win the competition title for the fifth consecutive year.

In the first match of the season, the Panthers lost to the Eels 3-17 before going down to the Bears 18-19.

After much soul-searching and better commitment from the players, the Panthers bounced back with a 32-22 victory against the Eels in the first match of round two before beating Bears twice including the 23-7 win in last week’s semi-final.

Panthers’ Lua Tua said the start of the season was not as they expected but the return of key players including speedster Peniasi Dakuwaqa reinvigorated the side for round two matches.

“Obviously with the league season being cancelled players were that interested in getting into the field. We managed to put a team together for our first match and obviously against Avatiu, you’re not going to win if you haven’t come prepared for the match,” Tua said.

“Against Arorangi we thought we prepared well but they had a really close game against Avatiu a week before so when it came to us, they were up for it. I thought we played well but towards the end we just fell off.

“Coming in second round we really focused on getting the boys to the field, training and working on our fitness to make sure we are in the season and put ourselves in the position where we can contest for the title.”

Tua said the Panthers were focusing on maintaining the winning streak, extending their title win to five this weekend.

“Avatiu is a very proud club so they don’t want to lose to you, at the same time we are proud club as well. We have won this (four) years in a row and we want to keep on achieving that, it all comes down to who executes better on the day.”
The Eels who made it through to the final after their top finish in round robin competition “worked on mistakes and get our discipline right” over the past two weeks, said skipper Leki Vahefoou.

“We know Panthers is a quality side they set the standard in the past four years for us to chase – we are excited for Saturday, we look forward to the match,” Vahefoou said.

“Our job is to come out and play hard, discipline ourselves. We will expect Panthers to come hard, it’s a quality side with a good coach.

“There is pressure there (for Eels) – for the past four years they have maintained the title and the onus is on us to show that we have the potential to win. We have to do the hard work obviously.”

Both teams expect their forwards to lead the charge.

According to Ben Koteka of Cook Islands Rugby Union: “Both teams are well-balanced, they are stacked with national 7s and 15s rep players, and both possess game-breakers who can sniff out a try from anywhere on the park.”

“Key positional match-up: the crucial first 5/8 match-up between Viiga Ruepena (Eels) and Afereti Anau (Panthers) will dictate the flow of the game and with both players being first choice kickers a lot will rest on their shoulders,” Koteka said.

“The set-piece (scrum and lineout) will also be a key area – whoever dominates will ensure sufficient supply of front-foot ball.

“However probably the key to victory will be discipline - whoever can stay disciplined both on and off the ball will win. So make sure that you are at Tupapa Field to catch all the action and find out who will be crowned our 2022 Rarotonga Club 15s champions!”

In the Under 19 final, Avatiu Eels will take on Arorangi Bears.

Both teams have met twice this season with the score at 1-all – the Bears winning game one by 21-16 and then the Eels reversing the result in game two with a 24-22 victory. Both games were won via last-minute tries.

“Although the Bears possess some outstanding players who have already played Senior A Grade (Troy Matutu, Fili Cama and Taio Taio), the younger Eels team are a better team hence the closeness of the score lines and the result of the last match,” Koteka said.

“This will be a great match to watch, again discipline will be the key to victory.”

Fixtures

11.15am: Opening prayer, 11.30am: U9/U11s Quick Rip (Boys & Girls) – ALL Clubs, 1pm: U16 - Takuvaine Reds v Arorangi Bears, 2.30pm: U19 - Avatiu Eels v Arorangi Bears, 4pm: Senior A - Avatiu Eels v Tupapa Panthers

Squads

U19 Avatiu Eels: Jeremiah Tutangata, Jordan Peraua, Marcus Estall, Johan Herrman, Temaeva Ngaputa, Rima Putaura, Rennie Tamangaro, Tupui Tuaivi (Capt), Nuku Tetava, Aaron Simpson [Vice Capt.], Edwin Tauira, Aporo Johnson, Nooti Peau, Matatia Ahiao, Tangi Eli, William Wade, Nga Taripo & Ephraim Simpson.

U19 Arorangi Bears: Boaza Nookura, Michael Heather, Revan Tuaputa, Calvin Inatea, Iaveta Remuera, Taitao Kokoria, Titoa Teuira, Abel Heather, Apai Tarapu, Maka Maui, Taio Taio, Fili Cama, Samu Ritova, Nia Remuera, Troy Matutu, Julio Tauu, Tevii Ngametua, Rupert Arona & Daniel Daniel.

Senior A - Avatiu Eels: Napa Tomokino, George Fatefehi, KC Kora, Kena Vaamotu, James Kora, Clive Nicholas, Josh Motu, Leki Vahefoou [Capt.], Jacques Henry, James Nand, Viiga Ruepena, Tua Ravula, Lai Logologoivalu, Thomas Daniel, Nathan Nabou, Josh Koroi, Tevita Niusoma, James Tofilau, Lui Nicholas, John Penu, Josh Koroi.

Senior A - Tupapa Panthers: Jon Vano, Kana Nga, Koroseta Yeni, Lua Tua, Davey Mato, Enekupe Lelevaga, Timo Tangirere, Thomas Toa [Capt.], Selafi Tovio, Isimeli Ravula, Jason Potoru, Afereti Anau, Savenaca Buresova, Pita Senibiakula, Pereti Ioane, Jovilisi Naqitawa, Kave Mocedike, Peniasi Dakuwaqa, Tearato Tupuna, Tua Tom.