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Touch teams ready for battle

Friday 26 January 2024 | Written by Losirene Lacanivalu | Published in Sports, Touch Rugby

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Touch teams ready for battle
The Westrupp family at the Boxing Day touch competition last year. LOSIRENE LACANIVALU / 231226 16 -23122624

Fourteen teams will be competing in the Annual Touch Rugby Season that kicks off on Monday, January 29.

The Cook Islands Touch Association’s 2024 season kicks off next week with the men’s and women’s open grade competition on Monday, followed by the mixed open grade on Wednesday.

There are four men’s and four women’s teams registered this year, along with six mixed teams for the weekly competitions.

Mitiaro women’s team, Nukz Power, is led by Rima Browne, who aims to defend the trophy this season. Team GAT will be led by Puna Hiro, who will also be defending their trophy, while 007 will be out to defend the mixed grade.

All teams are expected to put on a strong performance with players who returned from the 2023 Pacific Games that was held in Honiara, Solomon Islands, in November–December. They are expected to eagerly show off their skills from all the hard training they had last year. 

Association president Julieanne (Julz) Westrupp says players to watch out for in the women’s grade are sisters Tutemaeva and Mele Poaru for Team Nikz.

Westrupp said these young ladies, who bring experience to the team, will definitely be a great boost.

Team Bounty will feature Pare Noovao, Monica Wichman and Tehina Tommy, as they will also strive to get their team in the finals this season. 

Team FBI will be led by Hinnah Tatuava, fresh off her return from the Pacific Games. No doubt, pressure will be on her shoulders, but with her strong leadership, she has the potential to guide her team to a successful season.

Defending champions Nukz Power have a few players that went to the Pacific Games including captain Browne along with Tashi Kopu, Missy McQuarie and veteran Westrupp herself. The team will also feature Mahana Sijp who will be representing Cook Islands at this year’s Touch World Cup to be held in Nottingham, England. 

Westrupp said Nukz Power will use this season to help prepare Sijp for the international event.

In the men’s grade, defending champions Team GAT will have the likes of Puna Hiro, Oscar Wichman and Toru Mateariki. 

Westrupp said: “These men play a fast and agile game in the middle and they will be good to watch this season.”

Nukz Power will be led by Vernon Horn and supported by John Noovao and Tuffy Ngametua. 

“This team continues to develop young players which will help towards Cook Islands Games.”

Westrupp said Team KAPS doesn’t have any Pacific Games reps. However, the experienced Viiga Mataroa guides his young players well and will continue to do so this season.

Team Warriors will be led by Vou Williams and assisted by Sam Tatuava and Tamaiva Mateariki. Williams will also be representing the Cook Islands at the Touch World Cup along with Sijp. 

Westrupp said the experienced players have gone out of their way to help grow the sport here.

In the mixed grade, KAPS will again be led by Viiga Mataroa, Nukz Power led by Vernon Horn, Outlaws spearheaded by Puna Hiro, and defending champions team 007 will be led by father and son, Andy and Adyn Kapi.

“Kapi too develops players and has done this for years,” Westrupp said.

Team CISNOC is walking the talk and joining the competition this year, said Westrupp, adding it will be exciting to see their staff on the field.

Newcomer JAWs, led by veteran Teokotai “Billy Bush” Tuaivi, is also joining the competition.

Westrupp says the teams are well-matched with a good mix of experience, skill, and flair. The mixed grade promises to be particularly exciting.

The open grade will play three round robin games, followed by playoffs with 1st vs. 4th and 2nd vs. 3rd. The mixed grade will play two rounds before playoffs with the same format.

Westrupp hopes this season helps prepare players for the upcoming Cook Islands Games.

All games will be held at the National Stadium starting at 5pm on Mondays and Wednesdays.

Westrupp said Mondays at 6pm is a free slot which they hope to use for those interested in playing in the Masters grade (45+) at the Cook Islands Games. She encourages everyone to take advantage of this.

Westrupp acknowledged sponsor Vodafone Cook Islands for their continuous support.