Aitutaki Sharks will take on former champions Avatiu Nikao Eels in the first match of the 2018 campaign on Friday February 9 at The Swamp.
The other round one games will be held the following day with Arorangi Bears hosting Ngatangiia/Matavera Sea Eagles and Tupapa Panthers taking on Takuvaine Warriors at Victoria Park.
Defending champions Titikaveka Bulldogs are on a bye in the opening round.
Cook Islands Rugby League competition coordinator Taua Benioni said the successful Nines tournament earlier this month served as a perfect platform for the club competition.
“The results may have been good or bad but at least coaches and players have had time to work on the areas where they need to do better and improve before their main competition kicks off,” he said.
Benioni said the Nines event was also a premiere for the coaches who are set to take over the respective clubs this season.
Bulldogs player-turned-coach Oswell (Ozzy) Tunupopo has taken on a major role and will guide his pack from the sideline this year.
“I suppose it’s another step in his career and we are sure his leadership will show in his coaching as it has in his game. I don’t think he can handle the pressure watching, it’s in the blood,” Benioni said.
Edwin Teraitua, who was an apprentice to the Bears throughout his years playing for the premiers, proved his worth as the new head coach after taking the team through to their first ever Nines final, Benioni said.
“Nia Petero having spent time coaching in the Auckland rugby league competition with the Papakura Sea Eagles shares his knowledge as their new coach for the Takuvaine Warriors,” Benioni added.
The Sea Eagles will be coached by club stalwart Tamaiva Tuavera (Captain Tama).
“The old man himself has had a few years on the sidelines, but can’t help but put his hand up again for the Ngatangiia Sea Eagles’ top job. It no doubt with all the experience he has around him, Tama always has a plan, ‘old skills are never forgotten’ as he says,” Benioni added.
The Aitutaki Sharks have taken on the obvious candidate in Arthur Emile, who has all the experience and knowledge of the game and rules as a CIRL referee. Benioni said Emile, who resides in Aitutaki, would bring in a lot of rugby league experience having previously played for the Ngatangiia Sea Eagles.
Emile’s knowledge of the rules of the game will also help develop the sport in Aitutaki, Benioni said.
Darren Piri, who guided the Tupapa Panthers last year, will coach the team again while Eels are expected to recall the retired Albert Nicholas to lead them back to the top, he said.
“CIRLA wishes all the coaches the very best for this season and requests the clubs and their supporters to support them.”