SOL23: Cook Islands PM impressed with the progress of touch rugby as tournament kicks off

Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Stephen Brown attended the opening day of touch rugby at Sol2023. Photos: Charlie Ando Bitikolo, Pacific Games News Service

Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Stephen Brown said he was impressed with the effort of Pacific Islanders to develop the touch rugby code when attending the first day of the Sol2023 Pacific Games tournament at DC Park on Monday.

The Pacific Games News Service caught up with the PM, who is in Solomon Islands on a three-day visit to witness Cook Islands athletes competing at the Games. He witnessed Cook Islands register their first win in the men’s open event, defeating host nation Solomon Islands 12-1.

“It’s really good that we have started to see countries put more teams into this rugby code,” Brown told the Pacific Games News Service.

“The competition champions have also changed over the past Games, as we used to have Fiji at the top, and of course now Papua New Guinea (PNG) is a very strong contender, and now we have started to see good growth of athletes from other countries participating in the competition,” the Cook Islands PM said.

The first match in the women’s open event saw Fiji beat Samoa 6-3 and Cook Islands defeat the Solomon Islands with the same scoreline as their male counterparts, 12-1.

The defending champions for both men and women, PNG defeated Niue 10-3 in the women’s event while PNG men beat Kiribati 18-2.

In other men’s results, Niue narrowly beat debutants Norfolk Island 10-8, while Samoa beat Fiji 8-5.

PNG men’s captain Eugene Eka said: “We came with a new approach; the 2015 and 2019 Pacific Games results of being champions are now part of history and behind us.

“We’ve got some new boys this round, and they will make their mark, so we treat each match as our final playoff for the gold medal.”

Overall, PNG and Fiji’s women’s teams lead with 9 points, and Samoa has 7 points. In the men’s, PNG, Niue, and Samoa share the spoils with 9 points each.

In total, there are almost 260 athletes from eight countries participating in the touch rugby tournament.

Matches will continue on Tuesday, starting at 8:30am and being played on two different pitches simultaneously.

Entry is free to sports at DC Park so Honiara residents and visiting Pacific Islanders are encouraged to witness touch rugby, which runs until Saturday.

By Arnold Peter, Ambrose Toremana and Cynwell Baelilio, Pacific Games News Service