Cook Islands’ club champions Puaikura FC have drafted experienced New Zealand defender Anthony Hobbs in their chase for a coveted OFC Champions League berth.
Before his 2016 season with Auckland-based club Eastern Suburbs, Hobbs played in the OFC Champions League in 2015 and 2016 with Auckland City FC and Team Wellington respectively, giving him a fair taste of the highs and lows that comes with regional football.
“Last year I played for Team Wellington and we lost in the final to my former club Auckland City, so that was a bit disappointing. The year before when I played for Auckland City we won the final so I’ve kind of had mixed experiences in the Champions League,” he said.
Hobbs is looking forward to a new kind of OFC Champions League experience when he plays for Puaikura against Samoa’s Lupe Ole Soaga, Tonga’s Veitongo FC and American Samoa’s Utulei Youth FC to qualify for the main tournament.
“It’s always a lot of fun coming up against the island teams, it’s something different that we’re not used to in New Zealand so I’m looking forward to that here,” he said.
“It’s also a new experience playing in an island-based team and being over here in Tonga but it’s something I’m looking forward to.
“Coming in and sharing my experience on how it all works and how the tournament operates will be good for us and good for the team to get settled in.
“Everyone has come together really well so it’s been really enjoyable so far.”
Hobbs is also eager to see the potential of the younger Puaikura players come out when they play their Tongan hosts in Saturday’s opener.
“They’re going to be playing at a high level, hopefully getting some good experience learning how to play a bit quicker against bigger, stronger, faster opposition,” he said.
“I think that’s good, not just for the club but for them and their development moving forward.”
Although the road to the 2017 OFC Champions League still has a long way to go, Hobbs is aiming high and is confident his side will be making Cook Islands history in 2017.
“We want to qualify for the next round so winning it is obviously the goal,” he said.
“Hopefully we will end up in New Caledonia for the main draw and when we’re there, you never know what could happen. That’s the excitement of the tournament. You never know.”
The 25-year-old defender joins fellow New Zealander Paul Rhodes as well as New Zealand-based Cook Islanders Keegan Inia, Tyrell Barringer-Tahiri, and Maro Bonsu-Maro as new members of the team.
Puaikura FC will start their bid for a place at the 2017 OFC Champions League when they take on Veitongo FC at Loto Tonga Soka Centre on 28 January at 3pm (local time).