Cook Islands club Tupapa Maraerenga have made a return to their title-winning ways after taking out the Van’s Premier Men’s Round Cup 2017 title, earning themselves a place at the OFC Champions League Qualifier 2018 in American Samoa next January.
It has been one of the best seasons in the club’s history for the senior men’s side after they maintained an unbeaten run in their division which was ended by defending champions Puaikura on the final day of the championship.
The final encounter of the season was a thrilling one for football fans in the Cook Islands as the nation’s two leading clubs, Tupapa Marerenga and Puaikura, scored nine goals between them.
Puaikura opened the scoring just three minutes into the match when former youth international Pekay Edwards capitalised on a goalkeeper error to slot home for his side.
However Tupapa didn’t plan on letting that unbeaten streak go so easily as Lee Harmon Jnr soon brought his side back on level terms with a well struck free kick that had the opposing keeper beaten.
A further free kick for Tupapa just a few minutes later was this time taken by captain Mii Joseph. It rebounded off a Puaikura defender before Geoffrey Strickland followed up the loose ball to score.
Puaikura had a chance to bring themselves back into contention when Dwayne Tiputoa stole the ball from Harmon Jnr and sent a powerful shot which was deflected away by the keeper.
Strickland then got involved once more, this time setting up Campbell Best whose superb finishing saw his shot power into the bottom right corner. In the 37th minute Strickland had his brace as he headed in Tupapa’s fourth goal of the first half.
Puaikura were seemingly heading for defeat as they trailed 4-1 at the break but as the teams came back for the second half, they showed why they were one of the league’s top sides.
Ten minutes after the restart Edwards flicked a ball through, eluding the Tupapa defenders and allowing Anthony Samuela to press forward and smash his shot into the back of the net. Kimiora Samuela then dribbled into the penalty area before lobbing the ball to Edwards who made no mistake with his finish to claim his brace.
Two further goals saw them secure the comeback of the season as they took a 5-4 lead with 17 minutes remaining in the match. Tupapa were left stunned and with no response allowed Puaikura to hand the champions their first loss of the season in an incredible fashion.