Tokouso’s Peni Kitiona gets caught up by a Tabusoro – Fiji defender in the Tri Nations series finale last year. Photo: FILE/COOK ISLANDSNEWS/21112208
The favoured Tokouso side is wary of the Cook Islands Residents in the Vodafone Tri Nations 15s series opener this afternoon at Victoria Park in Tupapa.
The match kicking off at 4pm will be crucial for both teams in their pursuit for the series title.
Tokouso, made up of Rarotonga-based Samoan and Tongan players, won the inaugural tournament in 2020 while the Residents are yet to win the title.
Ox Moananu, the coach of the Tokouso side, says they are wary of the Residents knowing too well the home side will come all guns blazing to claim the win.
“We know what we’re expecting (today). We know the Residents will turn up wanting to put in a really good performance given the last two years (without title),” Moananu said.
“We can’t be complacent and that’s the approach we are taking into the game, the same approach we will take in every other game. We respect our opponents and we know Cook Islands have managed to secure the services of some additional players that played this season and they will present a difficult challenge.
“We have to be prepared for it mentally and physically.”
Tokouso will be skippered by Afeleti Iona who featured for Tupapa Panthers in the domestic rugby union competition this year. Dynamic first five eight Viiga Ruepena will be their key player alongside champion Avatiu Nikao Eels skipper Leki Vahefoou.
“We are looking at Viiga Ruepena to control things for us and we have Afeleti at fullback who was a mainstay for Tupapa team this season,” Moananu said.
The team has been preparing for the past three weeks working on fitness and combination.
Moananu said: “Due to a very short season I don’t think a lot of players got the opportunity to really work on their fitness, it’s been the focus of our preparation.”
He thanked Rarotonga-based former professional rugby union player Michael Fatialofa for his input during their training.
Efforts to contact Residents coach Darren Piri for comments on today’s clash proved futile.
However Residents team manager Francis Toa earlier said: “We need to make a statement, first year Tokouso took out the competition, second year Team Fiji has taken that out and we are working really hard with our coach to try and establish our dominance, Cook Islands dominance in this programme.”
The Residents will play defending champions Tabusoro Fiji next Saturday, August 20 at The Swamp in Avatiu. In the final match of the series on August 27, Tokouso will take on Tabusoro at Raemaru Park in Arorangi.
12 noon Gates open: entry fee Adults $3 & Under 16 FREE, 1.50pm Opening prayer by hosts Tabusoro, 2pm U9/U11 Quick Rip Competition: 2x Fields available [sideline to sideline], 3.45pm Team Flag bearer - are ready & waiting with their teams, 3.47pm Flag bearer leads team towards the central halfway Admi Tent, 3.50pm Both teams/officials to assemble in-front of the central Admin Tent [facing the mountains] – National Anthem: Tokouso, National Anthem: CI, 3.59pm Both are teams announced onto the field by the MC, 4pm Kick-off