It’s been a 17-year wait to get back here and now that Tupapa Maraerenga have finally returned to the OFC Champions League Group Stage they want to make sure it’s memorable.
Coach Alex Napa guided the Cook Islands club champions through the Qualifier with a clean sweep of their opponents from Samoa, Tonga and American Samoa.
The challenge now is stepping up yet another level to take on the region’s top clubs.
“It’s good to be here at this stage of the tournament,” Napa said.
“We’re here really to learn, to experience the environment of this competition and get some exposure, because the more exposure we get for our boys, our teams and the clubs, the better prepared we are for the next one.”
Captain Mii Joseph has been involved in a number of Qualifier campaigns with Tupapa and he admitted watching domestic rivals take it out in 2017 was tough.
However, being a small nation he and his teammates were still behind their efforts as Puaikura debuted on the regional stage.
“Puaikura set some history for us last year as a country and we have the chance to go out and create another story for ourselves to share in the future,” he said.
“I think with the players we have in our team, we have the calibre to go to the next stage. To go out there and fight and play football.
“It will be a hard competition but we’re here to compete. We respect our brothers out there, but we’re not here to make up numbers. We want to try and make history and go through to the next stage.”
It’s a lofty dream for Joseph and his side to achieve, but Napa is confident the team has set a good foundation for itself.
“The opportunity is here and we’re certainly going to take our chances in this competition,” Napa said.
“We’re very realistic about it and we are trying to prepare accordingly. We are here to compete, there’s no doubt about that.
Tupapa Maraerenga continue their OFC Champions League 2018 campaign in the opening match of Group A against Lae City Dwellers at 2pm local this afternoon.