Women playing rugby league

Gold for Gold Coast Titans Cook Islands star in women’s rugby league 9s

005A1714 | February 25, 2024
Samoa beat Fiji in the men’s gold medal match, while Cook Islands defeated Tonga in the women’s. Photos: Charlie Ando Bitikolo, Pacific Games News Service.

Cook Islands’ Gold Coast Titans NRLW star Chantay Kiria-Ratu said standing on the podium with a gold medal is an unmatchable feeling after winning the Sol2023 Pacific Games women’s rugby league 9s tournament at Honiara’s National Stadium on Wednesday.

Kiria-Ratu and her Cook Islands teammates went through the three-day tournament almost unbeaten, other than a loss to debutants Tonga on Tuesday. But they had the upper hand when the two met again in the gold medal match, posting a 16-8 victory.

Cook Islands took an early lead through Toru Arakua and led 8-0 at the break. The second half saw Tonga make a comeback, with Lavinia Tauhalaliku breaking through the Cook Islands defence to score a try. However, Cook Islands responded with a team effort, leading to Arakua’s second. Tonga fought hard, with Mele Fotu-Moala scoring again, but Cook Islands held their ground.

With opportunities to win medals in the sport of rugby league being rare, Kiria-Ratu was overawed by the experience.

“I’m lost for words, to be honest. It’s super exciting for our nation and the people back home. We all wanted to go out there and do them proud, and we did that,” a delighted Kiria-Ratu told the Pacific Games News Service.

She revealed that a disrupted build-up to the tournament had left little time for their four Cook Islands-based players to gel with those coming from Australia and New Zealand, making the win all the more satisfying.

“It has been such a journey with the girls. There were a few who got caught up in delayed flights and that disturbed us, we only got to do one training run altogether and two players arrived late, but the connection we’ve built helped us to be where we are today.”

Claiming silver was an extraordinary triumph for debutantes Tonga, who went through the pool matches unbeaten. With a squad featuring 10 out of 15 players based in the island nation (with the others resident in New Zealand and Australia), Tonga women were the surprise package of the tournament.

Tonga captain Ana Ngahe told the Pacific Games News Service that claiming silver was a remarkable achievement, given the lack of experienced players in the team.

“It has been such an honour and we are so overwhelmed, given that it is our first time playing rugby league (internationally).

“The girls did well despite their inexperience. We are so grateful we have the privilege to represent our country. It does not matter if you are small or skinny or young. Have faith in God, everything will be possible, everything will come at His time, and all you have to do is trust the process.”

In a thrilling showdown for women’s bronze, reigning champions Fiji faced off against Samoa, with the match ending in a 4-0 victory for Fiji, who were relieved to claim a medal, given they fielded an almost entirely different team to their gold medal-winning side of 2019.

Fiji captain Grace Waqa said: “I’m really proud of my girls for holding the fort out there. This is our first Pacific Games, and for most of us this is our first game outside of Fiji. We didn’t have much possession, but we were able to hold them out in defence as well. We are mostly new players, so to come out with this result, I’m really proud.”

A devastated Samoa captain Solosoloula Peilua battled through tears as she reflected on the result.

“I’m not going to lie, I’m really upset,” she said. “Not so much upset for the loss but for my girls, the local girls, their background, their history in rugby (league). So, for me as a captain I wanted this mostly for them, but Fiji was just too fast, too quick and obviously they’re very well bonded and well trained, so I take my hat off to them.”

In the men’s competition, reigning champions Fiji had to settle for silver, suffering an 8-0 loss to Samoa in the gold medal match.

Fiji faced a resilient Samoan defence, and despite early attempts, their passing game struggled. Samoa capitalised on opportunities, working their way deep into Fijian territory and scoring the first try. Although Fiji had a disallowed try, Samoa held a 4-0 lead at halftime.

The second half saw both teams giving their all, with a penalty for Samoa leading to an impressive try by Kyran Tanuvasa. Despite Fiji’s determined efforts, Samoa’s defence held firm.

Samoa captain Larry Sang Yum said: “We came here for a reason, so we didn’t underestimate any team. We worked hard back home, and we came here to win. Our mission is complete. I would like to thank our heavenly father for guiding and protecting us. I really appreciate this gold for our country and our people back home.”

Fiji captain Jone Sauvaka said: “We had a lot of options, but it’s us who missed those options. We had a lot of opportunities to score, we had a lot of opportunities to have possession, but we lost it. Congratulations to Samoa for giving a good, hard fight tonight.”

In a physical men’s bronze medal match, Cook Islands defeated Tonga 16-6 in a dominant performance, with tries from Malachi Morgan, Adyn Anguna and Habasaloma Tamarua.

Cook Islands captain Adam Tangata told the Pacific Games News Service: “Credit to the boys, we dug in deep and put on probably the best performance we could. We fell short of the gold medal but to come away with the bronze, it’s something that we’ll cherish and honour for the rest of our lives.”

By Peter Psalm, Donaldson Saepioh, Frank Teho, Meleseini Tufui, Jenabeth Sara, Huckle Negoa and Junior Sisima, Pacific Games News Service

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