The annual Avaiki Rugby Challenge featuring four select sides from Rennell and Bellona Province is scheduled to kick off soon in Honiara.

Representative of the organising committee, Brian Pongotapu, confirmed this to Express Sports over the weekend.

Mr. Pongotapu said the date was brought forward after last week's meeting between them and representatives from the four participating teams.

Major sponsor for this year's rugby challenge is the Sullivans & Nambawan Meat company.

The "Sullivans & Nambawan Meat-Avaiki Rugby Challenge 2009" is set for the 11th of February, much earlier than officially scheduled.

The Company is sponsoring a trophy for the Challenge, match balls, t-shirts, drinks, while the Rennell-Bellona provincial government had indicated that they will be responsible for providing cash prizes for the tournament.

Players are already hard at training in town with just nine days remaining for the games.

Mr. Pongotapu said their committee is working to engage RAMSI personnels who can referee the coming games.

"This is to help keep the game in peace with neutral referees in the field."

Four teams meet annually for the Avaiki Rugby Challenge: the Western Sharks from West Bellona - the current two-time cup holder, Eastern Highlanders from East Bellona, Western Tornados from West Rennell and East Lakers from East Rennell.

Prior to the inauguration of the Avaiki Challenge back in 2007, the West Bellona's Sharks were the first to grab the Challenge's title and again won the title last year 2008.

Cash prizes for this year's rugby challenge are yet to be confirmed.

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