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Bears end 20-year drought

Monday 15 May 2023 | Written by CI News Staff | Published in League, Sports


Bears end 20-year drought
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

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 on Saturday.

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 on Friday.

In the highly anticipated premier men’s final, the determined Bears fought till the final whistle to end their 20-year title drought.

In an intense battle attended by a “record” crowd, the Panthers got off to a good start scoring the first try of the match through Filimoni Laitianara in the eighth minute before Tua Ravula’s drop goal giving them a 7-0 lead.

After overcoming a nervous start, the Bears found their rhythm and scored in the 19th minute through veteran Cosmar Tau’u, who played for the Bears in their last win. The try was converted by skipper Basil Matapo, who won the player of the match.

Finding their feet, the Bears picked up pace and young Taio Taio gave the side 12-7 lead at halftime.

In the second spell, the Bears made a better start with a try from James Strickland in the 42nd minute, extending their lead to 18-7.

But they soon lost the ground they made in the match after losing Logan Perenise to sinbin in the 45th minute.

The Panthers took full advantage of this with powerhouse Feleti Iona scoring back-to-back tries in the 48th and 57th minutes to put his side within fighting distance 17-18.

A mistake by the Bears defence saw Panthers’ winger Jone Baikeibau sneak in for a try under the post in the 61st minute giving his side lead for the first time in the match 23-18.

The final 20 minutes saw an exciting battle between the two teams as they fought tooth and nail for the win.

The Bears spurred by their travelling fans put everything on the line and their relentless effort paid off after they scored twice through Taio Taio and Geoff Mangele to lead 28-23.

The Panthers had some opportunities in the dying stages of the match but the Bears defended ferociously to hold onto their 28-23 lead and win the title after a lapse of more than 20 years.

Cook Islands Rugby League president Charles Carlson said: “Congratulations to the Arorangi Bears for a fantastic will after being in hibernation for 20 years! At the end of the day the winner is rugby league showcasing the best our Juniors (U10s-U12s), U14s, U16, U19, Women’s and Premiers.”

In the U14 final, Ngatangiia Matavera Sea Eagles scored in the dying stages to level the match 14-all against Arorangi Bears. The Sea Eagles scored in the extra time play to win the grade 18-14.

In the U16 final, Avatiu Nikao Eels handed Tupapa Panthers their first loss of the season, winning the title 26-22.

In the U19 final, the Eels defeated Bears 24-18 in another close encounter.