Junior Pacific Development helps Counties reap the rewards

As part of Badminton Oceania’s player development programme, seven players from the Cook Islands were part of Counties Manukau representative teams who played in the recent New Zealand Junior National Team Championships.

Cook Islands players are eligible to play in this competition as they hold New Zealand passports and are considered a close neighbour with just a three hour flight separating the two countries.  Badminton Oceania and Counties Manukau Badminton have been working collaboratively for the past year on a Pasifika programme in South Auckland schools, with the aim of getting more children from Pacific Island countries engaged in regular badminton programmes.

The New Zealand Junior National Team Championships are played across four age groups – Under 13s, Under 15s, Under 17s and Under 19s – with over 500 players as well as coaches, managers and parents all in the one venue in Palmerston North (central North Island) where 36 courts are fully utilised over the four days of competition.  For the players from the Cook Islands (population 17,500) an event of this magnitude is a very different experience from playing a local tournament at home.

The two Under 15 players were in New Zealand in February where they played in the Pacific U15 Invitation Challenge team tournament, whilst the five U17 players were all members of the Cook Islands U19 or Open teams which played in the Oceania Championships.  Zarrian Heather-Rau and Kaiyin Mataio are both currently residing in New Zealand where they are attending school – Kings College and Rutherford College respectively – and so both players have been training regularly with the Counties Manukau U17 squad.

Badminton Oceania Coaching and Development Manager, Robbie Thackham – who is also the volunteer coach of the Counties Manukau U17 number one team – said; “the benefits of this programme for these young players is significant.  They are put out of their comfort zone by having to work with a different coach and interact and play with different players than they are used to.  The higher level and intensity of the badminton over four days saw the players improve as the tournament went on, although they did get very tired as they were not used to such intensity.  These players have all returned home – either to Auckland or Rarotonga highly motivated to train harder and return again next year.”

Three of the Under 17 players – Tereapii Akavi, Te Pa O Te Rangi Tupa and Kaiyin Mataio – have been selected in the Cook Islands team to play in the BWF World Junior Championships 2023 in Spokane, USA, from September 25 to October 8, where they will gain valuable international experience as they look ahead to the Oceania Championships in February next year.

The players, their teams and final placings from the New Zealand Junior National Team Championships are as outlined below:

U15 Team 1 (Silver medallists, Division 1) – Edon Teraitua
U15 Team 2 (Gold medallists, Division 2) – Lana Aperau Toa
U17 Team 1 (Bronze medallists, Division 1) – Tereapii Akavi, Te Pa O Te Rangi Tupa, Kaiyin Mataio, Zarrian Heather-Rau
U17 Team 2 (5th place, Division 2) – Augustine Teraitua