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Claws are out, it’s showdown time!

Friday 12 May 2023 | Written by Losirene Lacanivalu | Published in Rugby league, Sports


Claws are out, it’s showdown time!
Lady Bears captain Stephanie Nooroa, left, with Lady Panthers co-captain Kiana Sword-Tua at Muri Beach in May. Picture: RASHNEEL KUMAR/23051145

Lady Bears will enter the Cook Islands Rugby League 13s final as hot favourites against Lady Panthers at Nukupure Park in Ngatangiia this afternoon. But both captains believe ‘final is anyone’s game’ as they prepare to lead their sides in the much-anticipated showdown.

Lady Bears and Lady Panthers have met thrice this season with the Panthers winning in round one before the Bears exacted revenge in round two.

In their third meeting, the top place playoff for direct qualification into the final, minor premiership winners Lady Bears reigned supreme again winning the closely contested clash in extra time play.

But captain Stephanie Nooroa said the final is a blank slate and anyone’s game.

“We are definitely still wary of the Panthers. It is pretty much anyone’s game. Just because they lost the last two games doesn’t mean they dropped their game plan, they will come back stronger,” Nooroa said.

The Lady Bears were “not ready” in round one and in round two, they came better prepared with lessons learnt from round one performances, she said.

Nooroa said they missed key players, adding the team was inspired by veterans like Tina Iro, a club executive, who jumped in when they were short of players.

“Tina paved the way not just for girls in our club, but outside our club, those who would like to be like Tina at that age.”

Nooroa said they had a few close calls with some players in round two adding a week rest gave them a chance to work on recovery and get their players fully fit for the final.

Tupapa Panthers co-captain Kiana Sword-Tua said like other clubs, they too have struggled to have a full bench, relying on their starting line up to carry them through the full 70 minutes.

After a flying start in round one without a loss, Sword-Tua said it was hard to keep the girls motivated especially after consecutive losses against the Bears and the Eels.

The side managed to beat the Eels in the semi-final last week to make the showdown.

“In the first round we’re still on quite a high after winning the Nines tournament in January and we were able to keep that momentum so when we played our three games in the first round which were back-to-back, we were able to keep up with that momentum. I think what let us down was the two-week break and for some of us this meant not showing up for training and that kind of brought our intensity down,” Sword-Tua said.

“We’re unable to keep the intensity after winning three back-to-back games and also the recovery time … three back-to-back games is quite a toll on the body especially if it’s your first-time playing league and the majority of our players are first time league players.”

Against the Bears in the top place playoff a fortnight ago, Sword-Tua said they had to dig deep because they had “no bench” for that game.

“I was quite proud of the way we performed despite the loss,” she said.

“I think what made us recover faster after the Bears game for the Eels match was, we wanted to meet the Bears again in the finals. I think it wasn’t necessarily around recovery, it was more around the hunger and the want and especially this week leading up to the final we have seen a fire and want in the girls that we haven’t really seen this season yet. They are showing up to training on time and putting in the hard yards.”

Sword-Tua said the grand final “is different type of playing field and anybody’s game”.

“We have been reminding the girls when it comes to Friday it’s nil-all and we just have to go out and play with the want to win and want to have each other’s backs on the field.”

Both teams are calling on their supporters to come out in numbers and support them in the final kicking off at 4pm.