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‘Never say die’ attitude puts Panthers into final

Tuesday 2 May 2023 | Written by CI News Staff | Published in League, Sports


‘Never say die’ attitude puts Panthers into final
Tupapa Panthers came from behind to beat Avatiu Nikao Eels 36-34 at Aretere Park last Saturday. MELINA ETCHES/23042909

An inspiring half time talk from coach Darren Piri saw defending champions Tupapa Panthers get their act together to outmuscle Avatiu Nikao Eels for a spot in next weekend’s final.

Avatiu Nikao Eels’ strong first half performance where they raced to a 28-0 lead placed them in good position in the Cook Islands Rugby League 13s competition playoffs at Aretere Park on Saturday.

The Clive Nicholas-coached side led 28-6 at the break but the visitors turned the tables in the second spell to win the exciting match 36-34.

Panthers coach Piri said the message at half time was “simple”.

“The message to the boys was to get back to basics, work on the line of defence, make the right calls and have fun,” Piri said.

Tua Ravula and Teina Savage led the attack in the second spell supported by the rest of the squad and took advantage of Eels’ shortfalls, including their ill-discipline and subsequent sinbin, to cushion the deficit and eventually lead and win the match.

Piri said: “The senior players impressed, they stepped up and delivered. I told them to concentrate on how we want to play, not on how they (the Eels) played.”

Despite down at the break, Piri said he had faith in his players to make a comeback in the second spell.

“We always have faith in the team, you just have to believe in your team and don’t give up.”

Former Cook Islands and NZ Warriors rep Meti Noovao hailed the Panthers for their remarkable performance in the second spell.

Noovao said the Eels were unlucky to blow their first half lead.

“In knockout stage you don’t blow lead like that, you can’t give a team like Tupapa chance to come back in the game. They’re a champion side and they will punish you for that,” Noovao said.

“I’m sure Tupapa coach would have ripped into the players for that first half performance. To come back from that scoreline and win the game is just remarkable.”

The Panthers are through to the final while the Eels will get another chance when they play Arorangi Bears in the semi-final this weekend.

The Bears thumped Ngatangiia Matavera Sea Eagles 36-8 in the third-place playoff on Saturday. They led 14-0 at the break.

Piri said they will continue with their preparations to ensure they are fit and ready for the final.

“We have some players with niggling injuries so this break will give them time to recover and hopefully they are fit for the final.”

In the women’s division, Lady Bears have booked their place in the final after beating Lady Panthers 28-22 in extra time play on Thursday while Lady Eels thumped defending champions Lady Bulldogs 44-4 in the third-place playoff on Friday.

Lady Eels will play Lady Panthers in the semi-final this week.