The very first National Football Championship in the Cook Islands finished last month and it was a great success.
A total of 16 teams, eight men and eight women sides, split into two groups participated in the tournament, where the two top teams would advance to the semi finals.
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The 16 teams were the three districts on the main island of Rarotonga (Avarua, Puaikura and Takitumu) and teams representing the outer islands of Aitutaki, Atiu, Mangaia, Mauke and Mitiaro.
Group A was named the group of death with Aitutaki, Atiu, Avarua, and Puaikura competing for the two top spots. Group B had Mangaia, Mauke, Mitiaro and Takitumu in it.
The tournament offered good prize money with NZ$7,000 going to the winner, $3,000 to the runner-up and $1,000 to the bronze winner in both the men and women’s tournament.
Interestingly enough, in both the women’s and the men’s tournament it was the same four teams that made their way to the final and bronze final. Aitutaki and Avarua from Group A would contest the final, while Mauke and Takitumu were the two Group B contestants and would play the bronze final.
Double glory for Avarua
In the end, the sides from the Avarua district of Rarotonga prevailed in both finals.
In the men’s final Avarua won 2-0 after a brace from Samoan Peni Kitiona.
Despite some big names like Tupapa Maraerenga’s OFC Champions League players, brothers Grover and Lee Harmon and Geoffrey Strickland, as well as the backing from Cook Islands internationals Taylor Saghabi and Roger Manuel, Aitukai could not find a way back in to the match.
In the women’s final Avarua won 3-0 after two penalty goals from former Cook Islands U17 international Ngametua Taringa and one goal from Holly Turner.
In the men’s bronze final Mauke had a 2-0 lead going into the final ten minutes of the match but Takitumu managed to bring it all back to 2-2 and forced a penalty shootout, which they came out on top of, to secure a very hard fought third place.
In the women’s bronze final it was a bit easier for Takitumu as they won 5-1, with Cook Islands netball international and Miss Cook Islands 2015 (she finished top 20 in Miss World 2016), Natalia Short, scoring all five goals.
The next iteration of the tournament is scheduled to be held in 2020.