Friday 10 February 2012 | Published in Regional
Aitutaki Sharks coach Junior Tamati says his team was “shattered” to learn this week that they were being pushed out of the 2012 rugby league season and he expected the island as a whole would feel much the same way.
Tamati said the island’s sole rugby league team had brought a whole new attitude to the game this year and the community had been diligently raising funds since the end of last season to bankroll the Sharks’ fortnightly travel to Rarotonga for matches.
Tamati estimated that months of fundraisers, raffles and functions had brought together the $40,000 or so that was needed to send the Sharks to Rarotonga six times during the season.
At the same time, Aitutaki’s league players had been in training throughout the summer to prepare themselves for the season.
But just days before their first match for 2012 – which was due to be played in Aitutaki today against the Tupapa Panthers – Tamati had to tell the 27-man squad that they wouldn’t be running on to the field.
“The boys were shattered when they heard,” Tamati said.
The team is still trying to figure out a way that it can play league and is currently in talks with the Takuvaine Warriors to see if it can merge its team with theirs for 2012.
An emergency meeting was held in Rarotonga yesterday to discuss the Sharks’ future in the national club competition after the Cook Islands Rugby League Association announced on Wednesday that the Aitutaki club had been ‘excluded’ from the 2012 season.
CINews understands that at the meeting a number of ideas were floated and discussed on how to keep the Sharks in the competition including the subsidising of travel costs for clubs by the Cook Islands Rugby League Association.
The association is expected to elaborate more today on the fate of the Sharks.
Tamati said it was all coming into place for the Sharks this year, when money problems and player shortages of the past disappeared.
“It’s been difficult in the past, but this year we have a full squad of 27 players they have a whole different attitude this year.”
And given that Aitutaki had committed and prepared to send its players to Rarotonga six times this year, Tamati said it was disappointing that the Rarotonga-based clubs couldn’t commit to visiting Aitutaki just once in the season.
In Aitutaki, the games will bring out a majority of the island to watch the league.
Tamati said it was a huge part of the island’s social scene and it would be sorely missed this year.
Similarly, Tamati said the Aitutakians taking part in classes through the Cook Islands Sports Academy would be hurt by the Sharks’ exclusion.
Sixteen people are enrolled in CISA classes this year, which Tamati tutors.
He said he encourages all of them to aspire to joining the Sharks.
Tamati said he hoped Air Rarotonga would be able to accommodate the Rarotonga teams to ease the financial impact of having league games played in Aitutaki.
He still holds hopes of having the Sharks participate in the 2012 season and says he hasn’t given up trying to get them involved.
The team is still training as if they will be playing games. Tamati hopes they will do so, not just for Aitutaki but for the whole competition.
“It won’t be the same without the Sharks, I can tell you that,” he said.