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From setbacks to glory: Eels coach Nicholas shares story of resilience

Saturday 18 May 2024 | Written by Solomone Taukei | Published in Features, National, Rugby league, Sports, Weekend

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From setbacks to glory: Eels coach Nicholas shares story of resilience
Avatiu Nikao Eels coach Clive Nicholas. CIRL/ 24051729

In the world of sports, overcoming adversity is often the key to triumph. The victorious Avatiu Nikao Eels coach Clive Nicholas embodies this principle, sharing his story of how they navigated the challenging yet rewarding 2024 Cook Islands Rugby League season. Solomone Taukei reports.

Instead of letting setbacks get him down, Nicholas used them as motivation. Every loss became a lesson, pushing him to work harder. And after a season of struggle, his determination paid off, showing that resilience and hard work can lead to victory.

The Eels won the Minor Premiership and the CIRL 13s premier men’s title after a lapse of eight years after defeating Tupapa Panthers in the final 26-14 last week.

“During the season, I didn’t get much support except from the club fans and supporters,” shares Nicholas. “I knew it wouldn’t be easy, but I had to keep pushing and be strict with my team. I tried to stay calm and humble, even though the journey was tough.”

Despite a strong start to the season, the Eels faced tough challenges ahead. They suffered a humiliating loss to the Ngatangiia Matavera Sea Eagles, who were ranked fourth throughout the season. Then, in round two, they were defeated by their biggest rivals, the Panthers.

Despite retaining the Minor Premiership, they were knocked out in the minor semi-final playoff. Despite all this, Nicholas remained proactive and positive. Throughout his career, he had faced numerous losses, but he saw them as learning experiences to move forward

Nicholas often referred to past experiences to motivate his players to perform better this year. However, instead of motivating them, most of the players became aggressively resistant to hearing about past failures. This created a problem within the team, as many of the boys started to react and behave in challenging ways, both in terms of attitude and discipline.

This became one of the biggest challenges throughout the season as unsportsmanlike behaviour frequently led to referees penalising the team, shares Nicholas.

“Ultimately, it wasn’t about other teams defeating us. Rather, it was about our own actions causing setbacks every time we took to the field,” says Nicholas.

“I had to come up with a plan. We had the players, but their attitudes became a big problem when they started listening to advice from others outside the team.

“We’ve got a lot of people giving their opinions; we have a lot of scientists experimenting on us, who aren’t part of our club. This distracted the boys.”

Nicholas had to talk to his players one-on-one. He shared that he used to be a young player representing his club and country, and he made mistakes because of his attitude. Now, he understands how important it is to get the team together.


The Avatiu Nikao Eels players and management after winning the Cook Islands Rugby League Rarotonga 13s premiership on Saturday last week. SUPPLIED/ 24051728

Experience was crucial for Nicholas to keep moving forward.

He faced similar challenges with his national Nines team at the Pacific Games last year, and that experience helped him win the premiership.

As the Pacific Games bronze medallist coach, he knew he had to strategise before it was too late.

Nicholas believed in the players and encouraged them to change their perspective and respect him as the head coach. The players needed to listen to one voice, the coach’s.

Avatiu needed a clear vision and direction that everyone could focus on. Eventually, the boys started to pay attention to Nicholas and the management again.

“Teamwork and unity became noticeable as coach. I made sure to stay updated by completing online coaching courses to maintain standards.

“We had to adjust our training sessions because many of the boys had work commitments, but we made sure to come together whenever possible and keep pushing forward. As we entered the finals, I knew we were facing a tough opponent. Tupapa was equally determined to win, especially after defeating us in the playoffs. However, I was confident that with the right strategy, we could overcome the challenge.

“In the end, everyone witnessed how we managed to defeat the Panthers and I was just super proud of my boys.”

Nicholas also revealed a side of himself that he had kept hidden for too long.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, he was greatly affected as the tourism industry, along with everything else, came to a halt. He faced social and financial struggles during this time, feeling helpless at moments.

However, the pandemic also gave him a lot of time to reflect on the future.

After Covid, Nicholas bounced back, taking on the coaching role despite the challenges and pressures.

One of his proudest achievements was securing a bronze medal at the Pacific Games, which was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

During the Pacific Games 2023 in Honiara, Nicholas had a significant encounter with the Fiji head coach, who provided insights that opened his eyes. He realised the rigorous nature of the Fijian Rugby League Pathway, which sets a highly competitive standard that others can only dream of.

Nicholas immediately saw this as a potential solution back home. He observed that many players in the Cook Islands take their opportunities for granted, as the pathway here lacks the same level of competition.

Reflecting on the words of the Fijian coach, Nicholas emphasised the need for a change in perspective among local players. He highlighted the importance of adopting a lifestyle conducive to being a sportsman, focusing on healthy, fresh food from the farm and sea, rather than fast food options like burgers and fries and most importantly having strong mental health and an attitude of a real sportsman.

Nicholas has also been nominated for the 2023 Sports Coach of the Year at the Sports Awards to be held tomorrow night at The Edgewater Resort and Spa.