Cook Islands athletes are preparing for the Pacific Games in July to be hosted by Papua New Guinea and in the league competition it’s going to be particularly tough to snatch the gold medal.
“No doubt this is going to be a very tough competition especially with the increase in popularity of rugby league in Fiji, Samoa, Tonga and now the inclusion of PNG in the mix,” says Cook Islands Rugby League president Charles Carlson.
He says rugby league is the number one sport for host nation PNG and with an estimated population of 7 million, home advantage will make it a strong contender.
Eight Pacific nations have been confirmed to take part in the competition but Carlson, the current chairperson of the Asia Pacific Rugby League Confederation (APRLC), is expecting more teams to be included.
"One of our strategic goals for APRLC is to grow the game in the region.
"Playing in the Pacific Games is a good way of introducing them to international competition”
Meanwhile on the local front, the Pacific Games has been on the local league association’s radar and they have been preparing for it since last year.
"Our campaign started last year with the Australian Affiliated States tour, the Waicoa Bays Provincial tour from New Zealand and our Cook Islands Tri Series," says Carlson.
"These games provided us the opportunity to bring the boys together to start playing as a unit which is crucial to success."
National league nines coach Albert Nicholas is no newcomer to the game and was assistant coach when the Cooks won both silver medals at the Pacific Games.
He hopes to take this a step further in winning gold.
“We had a good build up towards the end of last year with all the home fixtures,” says Nicholas.
"We are also fortunate to have the league season building up to the Pacific Games."
He says players are still required to step up their training and commitment to meet the demands involved in bringing home the gold.
The Pacific Games is the pinnacle for many Pacific athletes and it is very important to get the message across to all players about the privilege and pride in representing your nation.
“There is no doubt about the strength of village pride or the Pa Enua pride; you always get those diehard or staunch supporters," says Carlson.
"We just need to take that staunchness or diehard attitude to the next level of being proud to represent Cook Islands at international events.”
A meeting is being called for all those registered for the Pacific Games (league 9s) on Wednesday, February 25 at the Avatiu Club House, at 5pm sharp.
This meeting is compulsory and any players who fail to turn up without a very good reason that they can explain to the coach and management, will be terminated from the training squad.
The current training squad includes Tauri Arthur, Terei Charlie, Bernard Tararo, Mau George, Bruce Goldsworthy, Viliame Gukisuva, Joseph Hoflich, Marouna Ioane, William Kauvai, Kevin Mapu, Devonne Michell-Mahara, Okirua Naea, Clive Nicholas, John Nicholas, Patrique Numanga, Troy Penno, Sirla Pera, Gerald Piho, Jamane Pureau, Teina Savage, Timothy Tangirere, Hosea Taripo, Travel Tou, Louisson Tuaivi, Chedyn Mani, Benjamin Tautu, Teeiao Warren, Morey Vati, Bill Tangapiri, Lance Simiona, Robert Heather, John Vano, Teariki Purua, Turori Matutu, Teu Paerau, Alex Roa and Ngatupuna Joseph.