By Brian Lowe
The Cook Islands have had their last major hitout before next month’s crunch game against the United States, and for the most part, made a pretty good fist of things.
The Kukis went 2-1 at last weekend’s Rugby League World Cup 9s in Sydney. They beat Tonga Invitational and Fiji but lost to Samoa.
Now that the 9s are in the rearview mirror, the Cook Islands are focusing on their 2021 Rugby League World Cup (RLWC) qualifier against the USA Hawks next month in the US.
It’s an all or nothing match with the winners clinching the final berth for the 2021 World Cup in England, while for the losers, it will be another four years before they have another shot at qualifying.
Cook Islands head coach Tony Iro says they have just about finalised their RLWCQ squad with the 9s team forming the basis of it.
“Yes. We have a further six to eight players to consider who were unavailable for the 9s.”
Iro says they blooded a couple of new guys in Sydney.
“Two debutants – Tevin Arona, halfback, Canterbury Bulls (NZ) and Journe Pua, prop, NZ Warriors U20s.”
Despite their winning record at the weekend, the Kukis missed out on making it into the 9s finals, however, Iro continues while that would have been sweet, it wasn’t their primary focus.
“Winning is always important but it is 9s so a completely different game. Good opportunity to get the group together and get some footy and training into them.”
The coach goes on to say that overall, the three games proved to be a valuable exercise for his players, even if it was in the abbreviated version of the sport.
“Just for the boys to focus on their fundamentals and accuracy. Quite a few haven’t played footy for a period so need to be tidy in their work.”
All in all, Iro says he’s pleased with the side’s preparations for next month.
“Good. Hopefully have the squad settled by the end of next week.”
The final matches of the European qualifiers get underway this coming weekend, but for the Kukis and Hawks, their single elimination game is scheduled for Saturday, November 16 in Jacksonville, Florida.
The US will be striving to qualify for their third straight RLWC appearance. The then Tomahawks made America’s debut at the 2013 iteration and went all the way to the quarterfinals, then the Hawks followed up by qualifying for the 2017 RLWC.
Conversely, the Cook Islands will be hoping to get back to the World Cup after missing out in 2017. They made it in 2013 when they sustained a first up loss to the Tomahawks.