By Richard Cowley, Date: 10/9/12
When people hear about the Cook Islands they automatically think of a great holiday destination hidden away in the south pacific. The general population (in Australia) have no idea that this beautiful cluster of 15 Islands are also home to a sport on the rise in the pacificâ€¦.rugby league.
The Cook Islands have automatically qualified for the 2013 Rugby League World cup and will join Wales and the United States in Group D. It will be the Cook Islands 2nd World Cup appearance the first being back in 2000.
Their inclusion is justified after knocking over Fiji and Samoa to book a place in the 2009 Pacific Cup Final against Papua New Guinea. PNG ended their fairy-tale run in the final but it was a great achievement never the less.
National coach David Fairleigh, a former Kangaroo Rep and now assistant coach to Penrith Panthers took over the coaching role in 2009 that led to the Cooks qualifying for the World Cup. This will be his biggest challenge, taking these warriors from the tiniest of islands into the 2013 Rugby League World Cup.
Another reason why the Cook Islands deserve their place in the 2013 World Cup has to do with the ground work taking place on the Cook Islands itself.
The Cook Islands now boast six clubs (one for each main village) all comprising of U19â€™s, U16â€™s and U13â€™s teams. Rugby League is not currently played in the school system but the CIRL are aiming to change this in 2013. Recently the Rugby League World Cup toured the Cook Islands and was taken to local the schools. So there is no doubt the school kids know all about rugby league and who to support come World cup time.
Seven clubs take part in the premier competition. Rugby League is the only code that includes an outer island team (Aitutaki) who have to fly every second week to Rarotonga to take part in the premier competition. Every other week, a Rarotongan team travels there.
At senior level a big success story has been the introduction of the masters (40+) competition. Charles Carlson from the CIRL explains â€œThis is crucial to the development of the game in terms of attracting the old boys to participate in the clubs and assist with the junior development. Also bearing in mind that many of these guys are union players now slowly been converted to league and they love it.â€
Rugby League in the Cook Islands enjoys exposure via the local newspaper (CINEWS) along with CITV sports. As the build-up to the 2013 Rugby League World cup continues so will rugby leagueâ€™s media coverage on the islands.
Being from a small group of islands in the south Pacific does have it’s challenges. Charles Carlson expains why “The reality with such a tiny island like the Cooks is the limited corporate sponsors available within the country. However that does not deter CIRL from organising their own fundraising events on the island and even seeking interested international corporate sponsors to support them to the World Cup. We are pleased that Australian based company Tsunami Sport Ltd has come on board as one of our sponsors to the World Cup and their playing gear and apparels are just fantastic.”
Picture (Charles Carlson and Kevin Iro both doing the hard yards at the local market with World Cup apparel rallying support for the World Cup 2013 campaign)
So for a small bunch of Islands located in the Pacific there is no doubt that the Cook Islands Rugby League are doing the hard yards to see rugby league grow and prosper.