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Bulldogs’ stunning win throws league competition ‘wide open’

Tuesday 20 February 2024 | Written by Rashneel Kumar | Published in Rugby league, Sports


Bulldogs’ stunning win throws league competition ‘wide open’
Titikaveka Bulldogs’ Tomasi Bikaca takes on Tupapa Panthers at Aretere Park on Friday. The Bulldogs won the match 38-30. LOSIRENE LACANIVALU/ 24021633

Titikaveka Bulldogs’ surprise victory over former champions Tupapa Panthers in the second week of the Cook Islands Rugby League 13s competition has ‘thrown the competition wide-open’, says CIRL president Charles Carlson.

The Bulldogs, after falling to Ngatangiia Matavera Sea Eagles 16-44 in the opening week, staged a remarkable comeback to defeat the Panthers 38-30 in a thrilling clash at Aretere Park in Avatiu on Friday.

Coached by Darren Piri, the Panthers kicked off their 2024 season with a convincing 34-8 win against defending champions Arorangi Bears in week one.

Reacting to week two results, Carlson said, “Certainly, the Bulldogs’ win over the Panthers was a major upset.”

“It goes to show that no team should ever be taken lightly. This throws the competition wide-open having very competitive teams across the board.”

Defending champions Bears have not had the start they were looking for after losing their second consecutive game to Avatiu Nikao Eels 8-30 at Aretere Park on Saturday.

However, Carlson believes the Arorangi side, which has lost some key players from last season, can still turn their season around.

“The Bears have had a rather challenging start to their season, having lost two consecutive games. Despite the setbacks, one can’t deny the potential of their young team, which is still in the process of finding its footing.

“With some time and patience, it’s possible that the Bears will overcome their current struggles and emerge as a formidable force to retain its title.”

Eels coach Clive Nicholas was pleased to get their season off to a winning start but said he was expecting more from his team.

“All credit goes to the young Arorangi pack,” he said. “They showed a lot of courage despite their inexperience and came with a lot of play, speed, and they were surprisingly attacking our lines. These are young players, and I was a little bit annoyed and vented my frustration at the boys at halftime about their performance. We managed to pull it together in the second half.”

The Eels held a slender 14-8 lead at the break before scoring 16 unanswered points in the second half to secure the 30-8 win.

“Credit goes to the Cook Islands players in the team,” Nicholas said. “They led the attack and defence.”

The Eels also fielded their two imported Fijian players, and Nicholas said “they were finding their feet” in the domestic competition. “They enjoyed their first game, they like the weather, and they were surprised by the spectator level.”

The Eels also missed some of their senior players who were stuck in the outer islands due to the tropical depression and returned on Saturday night.

Nicholas said the Bears have lost some of their core players, with a couple joining the Eels, but have a lot of promise to bounce back in the second round of the competition.

He also met a New Zealand-based Cook Islands representative who is on the island and had joined the Sea Eagles team for the competition.

“It’s better,” Nicholas said. “The players are more spread out to the clubs, and the competition will get more exciting.”

The Eels will play the Panthers in the season’s first double-header, followed by the Bears versus the Sea Eagles clash on Saturday at Raemaru Park. The matches kick off at 3.30pm and 5pm, respectively.

In the women’s competition, Lady Bears will take on Lady Panthers at 2.45pm on Saturday.


Prem Panthers 30-38 Bulldogs, Prem Eels 30-8 Bears, Women’s Bears 4-4 Bulldogs, U16s Sea Eagles 28-16 Bears, U14s Eels lbd-wbd Sea Eagles.