Saturday 18 March 2023 | Written by CI News Staff | Published in Rugby league, Sports
The Eels defeated the Panthers 38-8 when they met in the opening week of round one competition.
But Panthers coach Darren Piri hopes his side will put on a much improved performance when they host their town neighbours this afternoon in week one of round two at Victoria Park in Tupapa.
The Eels had a solid start in round one, finishing on top in the premier division with four wins from four matches. The Panthers finished second with three wins.
“We have made some improvements to our plays and defenses and we are still working on it like the other clubs. It’s a work in progress, I wouldn’t say we’re 100 per cent there, but the boys will be turning up to play,” Piri said.
“They (Eels) will be tougher but both teams have improved from their first game and we’re looking forward to it.”
Eels coach Clive Nicholas said while he was pleased with the team’s performance in round one, “it didn’t meet my expectations”.
“The other clubs have been struggling, we were struggling too but we were probably at a better place,” Nicholas said.
“But it has helped with me taking on this role full time. The commitment from the boys has been great and the availability of players from the wider squad, our reserves team, has helped us a lot, providing depth especially as we have lost some key players (to overseas and injuries).”
Nicholas said they had to bring in one of their “older boys from New Zealand”, Jason Tou, who played for the national side, to provide some cover as a senior and experienced player.
“He was a key figure in our Nines campaign and given the injuries we have had, we needed someone like him to guide the players in the field.”
Nicholas also said there have been other challenges lately with personal commitments and bereavements affecting some of his players.
“But its good to see the players turning up for training. I have asked them if they could put everything else aside and just focus on this game and after the game we can help each other get through the issues they are facing.”
Nicholas said they expect the Panthers to come out firing especially after losing in round one.
“Darren is a very well-respected coach and a (former) player in the Cook Islands and I have a lot of respect for him … it will be a good game.”
Both coaches are calling on their fans to come out in numbers to support their teams.
“I would like to convey our condolences to families of Papa Nuku Pera and Mama Akava, the grandma of the Akava boys, and also the mother of our major sponsor Chris McKinley of Onu Sportswear,” Nicholas said.
Victoria Park 12pm U14 Tupapa Panthers-Avatiu Nikao Eels, 1pm U14 Arorangi Bears-Sea Eagles, 2pm U16 Panthers-Eels, 3pm U19 Panthers-Bears, 4.30pm Premier Men Panthers-Eels.