Monday 17 May 2010 | Published in Regional
Avatiu Eels rugby league supporters and players will be singing ‘we are the champions’ for a long time to come after winning the 2010 rugby league championships 28-16 against defending champions the Tupapa Panthers at the weekend.
Not only did the premier grade win the coveted trophy, they earned bragging rights to sing whatever they like.
The clash was the highlight of an action packed afternoon of grand finals games.
The passionate rendition of the national anthem by Miss Cook Islands Engara Gosselin set the tone for the grand finals clash.
But the Eels were fruitless in the first half despite four goes at the line which were fiercely defended by the Panthers.
The Panthers had little possession in the first half but with ball in hand, Panthers stalwart Kipa Maruariki was hard to stop as he crossed the line between the sticks to score their first try.
The try gave the Panthers the edge going into the break 6-0.
Some hard words were said by both coaches to fire up the teams for the second half.
The Eels woke from their sleep with a hard fought try by Lui Nicholas who crashed through the Panthers defenders to dot down between the posts. The successful conversion by Bobby Hansen evened up the scores at 6-all.
The Panthers were caught napping soon after Nicholas’ try with returning speedster Trence Poila slipping through tackle after tackle to post another try for the Eels.
In fact, the first quarter of the second half was all Eels.
Then winger Matthew Pierre wanted a piece of the action as he carved up the scrambling Panthers defenders to try in the corner. The conversion was missed by Hansen but the Eels still had a good lead 16-6.
The run of tries only helped to fuel the Eels game as the side exploited gaps in the Panthers’ defence.This time the try came via Mataio Titoa who out stepped a Panthers defender to score in the Eels favourite spot – between the posts. His try was converted to stretch the Eels’ lead further to 22-6.
An attempted drop kick by Eels workhorse Terry Piri bounced off the posts and into the hands of Trence Poila who dotted down between the sticks for his second try of the evening. His try was converted by Hansen to take the Eels score to 26 while the Panthers remained on 6 points.
It was at this point that celebrations broke out in the Eels camp and Panthers fans started leaving the BCI Stadium.
It was their bad luck as the Panthers found their second wind with a hard fought try by Kipa ‘the Ox’ Maruariki.
Maruariki’s try put the fire back into the Panthers and they surged to another try soon after through their big running, big hitting forward Mana Hosking.
Hosking’s try closed the gap on the Eels’ lead 16-28, but time had run out for the Panthers. Revelry in the Eels camp intensified as skipper Bilsy Gukisuva, who had been taken off the field with a knee injury, returned to the field.
The captain pulled off the biggest run of the evening when with all the energy left in him, he charged down and stormed over Panthers players just for good measure.
But the game was already won and the trophy, along with the round cup trophy, was on its way to the swamp where it will remain until the 2011 rugby league season.
The cherry on the top for the Eels was when their big hitting impact player Mark Charlie was crowed the league Aito (champion) of the 2010 season, making it a triple celebration in the Eels camp – a trophy for the Aito player of the year, the round cup trophy and the ultimate championships trophy.