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The national rugby league side eyes more test matches in lead up to the World Cup in 2021.
Cook Islands rugby league is hoping the World Cup qualification would help them attract big names for the tournament in 2021.
The Kukis defeated the USA 38-16 in Jacksonville, Florida in the final playoff on Saturday, confirming their return to the event after a lapse of eight years.
New Zealand internationals Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad, Jordan Rapana, Zane Tetevano and Esan Marsters all made their test debut for the Cook Islands, while Kiwis teammate Joseph Manu is of Cook Island, Maori and Tongan descent. Former NRL star Valentine Holmes is also of Cook Island descent.
The hope now for the national rugby league body is to get these players in the team for the 2021 World Cup to be held in England.
Cook Islands Rugby League president Charles Carlson said they have to set new goals to ensure success at this world event
The national team has one international game confirmed for next year, however, Carlson said they would like play at least two games and another two to three games in 2021, leading up to the World Cup 2021.
“We see the rest of the Pacific teams now becoming dominant since the World Cup 2017 and the reason being since 2014, they get to play two to three top international matches every year and we don’t,” Carlson said.
“The advantage of playing more international games is you get to introduce and develop a bigger pool of new players playing at that high level of competition as oppose to depending on a small pool of NRL players.
“This USA game, it was our new players that stood out because they came with the passion and fire but with the calming influence and experience of the older players.”
Cook Islands rep Brad Takairangi, who played a pivotal role in the team’s success, said he was excited and looking forward to the World Cup.
The Parramatta Eels player also hopes the qualification will attract other professional Cook Islands players from NRL and Super League competition.
“We can’t wait to have to build on this and we’ve got so many talented players playing in the NRL and the Super League that are of Cook Island heritage so who knows what’s going to happen in the future. Hopefully we get a lot of them coming back and we can sort of do a similar thing to what Tonga have done,” Takairangi told RNZ.
He has watched the rise of Tonga over the past two years and believed the Cook Islands could achieve similar success if they were able to select their strongest team.
“I think 100 percent,” he said. “You see what Tonga have done with all their big stars coming back to play for Tonga and how successful they’ve been.
“The only thing with us is there’s been no games for the boys to play so they’re always going to play for the Kiwis or the Kangaroos but we’ve got a lot of players, especially in the Kiwis squad ... hopefully we will be able to get together and really put our country on the map.
“We’re only a tiny nation but I hope this is a stepping stone to something really special and we’ve got so many good young kids coming through like Steven Marsters, Kayal Iro, Reubenn Rennie. We’ve got a lot of young kids who really played really well and we'll see them playing NRL in the not too distant future.”.
SOURCE: COOK ISLANDS NEWS/PACNEWS
Pacific Islands News Association
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International News Safety Institute (INSI)
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