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The year in sports 2023
Women’s league 9s team with their spoils. LOSIRENE LACANIVALU / 23112302 / 23112303 / 23112304

2023 has been a testament to the dedication and talent of Cook Islands athletes across various sports. Cook Islands News’ Losirene Lacanivalu delves into some of the most remarkable sporting achievements that made headlines in 2023.

January


Avatiu Nikao Eels’ Tamatoa Nicholas scores the winning try against Arorangi Bears I in the League Nines in Paradise men’s final on Saturday at the National Stadium in Nikao. 23010818

New champs

Avatiu Nikao Eels and Lady Panthers were crowned the new champions of the League Nines in Paradise tournament held at the National Stadium in Nikao.

Carlson re-elected

Charles Carlson was re-elected unopposed as the Cook Islands Rugby League Association (CIRLA) president at its annual general meeting. He has been in the role since 2004 and will serve for three years.

February

Enoka joins Chelsea football club

Glamour English football club Chelsea have hired All Blacks mental skills expert and Cook Islander Gilbert Enoka.

Napa handed NRL lifeline

Reports in Australia have revealed that former Catalans forward and current Cook Islands international Dylan Napa has made a return to Sydney Roosters in the NRL.

March


The first individual across the finish-line this year was Maya Postrzygacz with a time of 56:17 minutes. At only 15 years old this was a really impressive performance. CITA/23032723

Daughter, 15, beats mum

The Cook Island Triathlon Association hosted the legendary BSP Women’s Triathlon event at the Tikioki Tri site. The first individual across the finish-line this year was Maya Postrzygacz with a time of 56:17 min. At only 15 years old this was a really impressive performance. Second to finish was Maya’s mother Adrianna Skurosz with a time of 58:04 min.

GAT, Nukz Power reign supreme

Fighting it out for third place in the Cook Islands Touch men’s category was KAPs and Germinators. In a closely contested affair, KAPs won the match 5-4 to finish third in the competition.

In the women’s third place playoff, 2022 champions FBI took on Nikz. FBI proved to be the stronger team with a convincing 5-2 win. In the main matches – the finals – GAT played Atiu Warriors in the men’s division while Nukz Power took on Bounty Hunters in the women. The Puna Hiro-led Team GAT proved too strong for the Atiu Warriors winning the “almost” one-sided affair 7-2. Nukz Power held on to win the closely contested women's clash 3-2.

CIFA dispute lands in court

The Cook Islands Football Association (CIFA) leadership dispute has landed in Court, with ‘dismissed’ president Tiraa Arere filing for an immediate interim order to restore him to the top role.

In the Civil Court in Avarua Justice Christopher Toogood oversaw a preliminary hearing between Arere against several members of the CIFA executive committee and staff.

April

Cooks handball teams finish third

Cook Islands men’s and women’s teams finished third at the Oceania Beach Handball Championships on the Gold Coast in Australia. The women’s team finished third after losing to eventual champions Australia 0-2 and New Zealand 1-2 in preliminary rounds. The side defeated American Samoa 2-0 in the other match.

CISNOC board members

Cook Islands Sports and National Olympic Committee has appointed new board members. The AGM was held on March 29 where Romani Katoa retained his position as senior vice president. Clee Marsters, Daphne Brown and Mark Short were welcomed as newly appointed vice presidents for a four-year term.

Teiotu re-elected

Cook Islands Rugby Union (CIRU) held its annual general meeting to discuss its way forward following a challenging 2022 season. Simiona Teiotu was re-elected the president of CIRU for a four-year term at the AGM held on Tuesday at CISNOC House in Nikao. Prime Minister Mark Brown was once again elected patron of the national governing body.

May


Arorangi Bears players celebrate their win against Tupapa Panthers in the Cook Islands Rugby League premier men’s final at Nukupure Park in Ngatangiia. LOSIRENE LACANIVALU/23051422

Bears end 20-year drought

Arorangi Bears premier men’s side ended their 20-year drought in the Cook Islands Rugby League domestic 13s competition after beating defending champions Tupapa Panthers in a pulsating final at Nukupure Park in Ngatangiia. The Bobby Hansen-coached Bears defeated Darren Piri’s Panthers 28-23 in an exciting final to complete a clean sweep in the local competition.

The Lady Bears won the women’s title for the first-time beating Lady Panthers 28-16.

Knight crowned triathlon champion

The 2022 competition runner up Brent Knight of New Zealand claimed the annual Olympic distance event consisting of a 1.5-kilometre swim, 42km cycle and 10km run at the 28th Air New Zealand Rarotonga Triathlon event.

June


Tupapa won the Open 2 final against Takuvaine, ending the latter’s unbeaten run, at the Tupapa Court on Wednesday. LOSIRENE LACANIVALU/23060110, 23060111, 23060112, 23010613, 23060114, 23060115, 23060116, 23060117, 23060118, 23060119

Arorangi, Tupapa claim Open titles

Arorangi and Tupapa reigned supreme in the Rarotonga Netball Club Competition Opens finals at Tupapa Courts this week.  Tupapa ended the “Happy Valley ladies” Takuvaine’s unbeaten run in the competition to claim the Open 2 title.

Tokouso wins Tri Nations Series

Tokouso Samoa/Tonga Residents team claimed the inaugural Cook Islands Rugby League Association Tri Nations Series after beating Cook Islands Residents.

In the final game of the Tri Series, the Tokouso Residents team made their mark winning 20-6 over the Cook Islands XIII at Aretere Park in Avatiu.

July


Winner of the men’s singles Andre Tutaka George, and Reuben Dearlove. TORU NOOROA/23071705

Paddling champs

Te Tupu O Te Manava paddlers Andre Tutaka George and Serena Hunter took out the Cook Islands Canoeing Association (CICA) national singles championships over the weekend in a hotly contested 18k race from Avana harbour to the Arorangi jetty.


FIFA President Gianni Infantino and his delegations touched down on Rarotonga yesterday. He was welcomed by Moeroa Tamangaro, acting president of the Cook Islands Football Association (CIFA), and the Minister of Sport, Education and Youth, Vaine (Mac) Mokoroa and MFAI officials. MELINA ETCHES/23072860

Historic visit

FIFA president Gianni Infantino touched down on Rarotonga, making a historic first visit to the Cook Islands, where FIFA Forward funds are boosting football development. Infantino was welcomed by Moeroa Tamangaro, acting president of the Cook Islands Football Association (CIFA), and the Minister of Sport, Education and Youth, Vaine (Mac) Mokoroa.

August


Lanihei Connolly and Nelio George led the 2023 Team Cook Islands at the 7th Commonwealth Youth Games in Trinidad and Tobago. SUPPLIED/ 23080801

Top 10 finish

The Cook Islands athletes participating in the 7th Commonwealth Youth Games in Trinidad and Tobago performed extremely well having placed in the top 10 rankings in their respective events.

Panthers reign supreme

The captains of the Lady Panthers and Lady Bears praised their players for their dedication and sacrifice in the inaugural Cook Islands Rugby Union women’s 10s competition. The two clubs overcame numerous challenges, including player availability, to field teams in the three-match series. The Panthers won all three matches, including the winner-take-all final, beating the Bears 38-0 at Victoria Park in Tupapa.

September

Badminton doubles

Badminton Cook Islands is proud of their young players’ performance at the Zespri AIMS Games in New Zealand. Claude Simpson and Edon Teraitua of Apii Avarua won silver medals after competing in the Badminton doubles competition at the Zespri AIMS Games in New Zealand.

Makea Pauka and Siaosi Cowan of Nukutere College won the Division 2 Boys Doubles

Maraea Wichman and Talia Adams of Nukutere College also won the Division 2 Girls Doubles.


Apii Avarua and Te Uki Ou Senior Boys, after their 4x100m relay race. MELINA ETCHES/23062723

Apii Avarua retains athletics title 

Apii Avarua retained the Prince of Wales Primary Schools Athletics trophy for 13th consecutive year after winning the 2023 edition.

World Bowls

Cook Islands Men’s Fours bowling team are now placed 8th in the world at the 2023 World Bowls Championships in Gold Coast, Australia.  The bowling team did exceptionally well after playing against 44 countries.

Tokouso victorious

Tokouso (Samoa and Tonga) claimed their second Vodafone Tri Nations Rugby Union Series title after Tabusoro Fiji defeated Cook Islands Residents in the final match of the series. Tabusoro, the 2021 and 2022 champions, defeated Cook Islands Residents 31-24 at Aretere Park in Avatiu.

Bronze medallists

The Cook Islands Under 16 junior girls oe vaka world champions are proud and excited to finally be presented with their bronze medals, after their epic race at the 2023 International Va’a Federation (IVF) World Paddling Distance Championships (10 - 19th August) in Apia, Samoa.

October

Hunt named new Kuki coach 

Having been robbed of the chance to represent his Cook Island heritage on the playing field two years ago, Karmichael Hunt is relishing his new role as the country’s head coach. During a brief return to the NRL in 2021, Hunt was convinced by his then teammate Alex Glenn to head away to that year’s World Cup with the Cook Islands, a nation he qualified for through his mum Matera who hails from the island of Rarotonga.


Tupapa Panthers players and management after winning the 2023 Raro Rugby 7s tournament at the National Stadium in Nikao. LOSIRENE LACANIVALU/ 23100701

Panthers, Burraneer Rays claim 7s titles

Tupapa Panthers retained the Raro Rugby 7s men’s title while Sydney’s Burraneer Rays were crowned the new women’s champions at the National Stadium in Nikao. The Panthers took on Manatoa – made up of Rarotonga-based national players – in the men’s final after round robin competition held on Friday and Saturday.

Pacific Games funding

Concerns have been raised over the distribution of a government grant, reportedly worth $500,000, to the Cook Islands Sports and National Olympic Committee (CISNOC) for the upcoming Pacific Games in Honiara, Solomon Islands. As participating national federations ramp up their fundraising efforts for the regional games to be held from November 19 to December 2, 2023, questions surrounding the distribution of taxpayer-funded grant have emerged. Responding to questions from Cook Islands News, CISNOC secretary general Owen Lewis said the funding that they received on September 28 will be strictly allocated for athletes’ travel, insurance, medical team support, and uniform support.

November

Cecil, Schofield win Aitutaki Golf Open

Maputai Cecil, who is bound for the Pacific Games, put on a good show at the annual Air Rarotonga Aitutaki Golf Open tournament to win the top prize in the senior ladies division. The tournament provided a good platform for Cecil and other national golfers to prepare for the Pacific Games in Honiara, Solomon Islands, from November 22 to December 2. Young Quinton Schofield took out the men’s outright honours, also winning in two categories: the Aitutaki residence’s award and the open men’s division.


Team Cook Islands chef de mission Mark Short and his daughter Natalia Short play the drums during the Pacific Games opening ceremony in Honiara, Solomon Islands on Saturday night. Picture: CISNOC/23111909

Team Cook Islands impresses

Team Cook Islands delivered a captivating performance at the official opening ceremony of the 2023 Pacific Games in Honiara, Solomon Islands. Amidst the vibrant beats of the live drum ensemble led by chef de mission Mark Short and his team, Cook Islands showcased its rich culture to the Pacific via a live broadcast and to the cheering spectators in attendance.

The team was led by flag bearers Julieanne Westrupp (Julz) and Stephen Willis.

Nines teams win medals at Pacific Games

The Cook Islands rugby league 9s teams that were stranded in New Zealand and Fiji on their way to the Solomon Islands due to flight cancellations had their perseverance rewarded when they won medals at the Pacific Games. The women’s team created history after winning the country’s first Pacific Games gold medal in the league 9s competition. The men’s team claimed bronze in the third-place playoff.


Cook Islands Aquatics Federation (CIAF) president Romani Katoa with Pacific Games dual record holder and gold medallists Wesley Roberts. LOSIRENE LACANIVALU / 23112501

Aquatics dives into record books

The Cook Islands swim team’s journey at the 2023 Pacific Games in Honiara, Solomon Islands, has been nothing short of remarkable. The two swimmers and the management team returned home with seven medals and two games records, a testament to their hard work and determination. Australian-based swimmer Wesley Roberts became the first Cook Islander to set a Pacific Games record – two records at the Solomon Islands Games. The 26-year-old secured his and the country’s first gold medal with a time of 3 minutes 58.41 seconds in a closely contested and intense final in the 400m freestyle.

Roberts added a bronze medal to his tally in the men’s 200-metre individual medley, clocking in at 2:09.81 minutes. He then shattered the 100-metre freestyle record for men, which had stood since 2015. He clocked a blistering 50.05 seconds in the final, showcasing his exceptional speed and skill. On the same night he competed in the 50m men’s butterfly final where he managed silver medal after finishing the race in 24.86 seconds. In his final race, Roberts secured another gold medal – his second at the Games – in the 200-metre freestyle and set another record of 1.49.78 minutes, surpassing the 2007 record of 1.50.27 mins set by Pacific Games legend Ryan Pini.

Connolly, who is focused on representing the Cook Islands at the next Olympic Games, also made her mark at the Pacific Games. She claimed two medals, a gold and a silver, in her debut appearances. She won gold in the 50-metre breaststroke for women and silver in the 100-metre breaststroke.

Football forfeits playoff matches

The Cook Islands football men’s and women’s football teams were asked by their governing body to forfeit their playoff matches at the Pacific Games without the knowledge of Team Cook Islands management. The Pacific Games Council will not take any action against the Cook Islands Football Association for forfeiting its final matches at the Pacific Games in Honiara, Solomon Islands.

December

Pacific Games

Cook Islands Sports and National Olympic Committee (CISNOC) lauded Team Cook Islands for their victories and dedication at the Pacific Games in Honiara, Solomon Islands. CISNOC secretary general Owen Lewis in a message to the athletes on the Cook Islands Sports Facebook page said that despite the challenges they faced they managed to secure 18 medals in a difficult playing condition. Team Cook Islands won five gold, three silver, and 10 bronze medals at this year’s Games. Swimmer Wesley Roberts also set two Pacific Games records at the event. At the 2019 Pacific Games in Samoa, Cook Islands won 18 medals, including five gold, five silver, and eight bronze medals.

The target this year was 25 medals.


Winners of the Open Women’s - V6 18km, Cook Islands, Te Tupu O Te Manava club, Team Maroro. 22112005

Makoha blazes through Round Raro Relay

The 2023 Vaka Eiva concluded with the exhilarating Round Raro Relay, a 36-kilometre race where paddlers navigated challenging sea conditions to reach the finish line. New Zealand’s Makoha recorded the fastest time in the V6 Round Rarotonga Relay 36km race.


The men’s champions Nikao Black Wolves. Back row (left to right) - Teokoitu Pana, Harison Toni Piira, Pita Ravarua, Deacon Teapa, Wayken Punga and Pati Ataera. Front row (left to right): Melody Melota, Teaute Ravarua, Tomoare Pana, Samuela Vai Peua and Tim Paero Anker. SUPPLIED/23121211

New champions crowned

Nikao Black Wolves and Turangi Young Guns won the men’s and women’s Rarotonga T20 Cookie Sadaraka Cup at Nikao Field and Turangi Oval.

WAKA makes third time the charm in Rarotonga

WAKA netball team from Australia won the 2023 Netball in Paradise mixed division. WAKA president Mo Hosea said this was their third year participating in the tournament, with their teams having previously lost the mixed division grand final in each of the past two years.

Cook Islands soar in rugby league

Cook Islands men climbed three spots to number 10 in the world in the latest International Rugby League rankings. Previously ranked 13th, Cook Islands is now placed ahead of the likes of Serbia, Italy, Wales, Scotland and others. The Cook Islands Moana, who also competed in the World Cup and Pacific Championship, retained their sixth spot.

 Domestic football

The Senior Women’s Knockout Final of the Rarotonga Football Season bore witness to a spectacle that was nothing short of extraordinary.  The women of Matavera-Ngatangiia Football Club (MNFC) shattered the glass ceiling and etched their names in the history books, clinching a victory that has been decades in the making. Tupapa won the men’s title. In the Round Cup women’s division, Avatiu made history by winning the title for the first time while Tupapa claimed the men’s competition.