Cook Islands rugby league team have hit the ground running in Jacksonville, Florida ahead of their do-or-die clash this weekend.
The Kukis will take on USA Hawks in the final Rugby League World Cup qualifying match on Saturday. The winner will lock in the final spot for the 2021 World Cup.
Cook Islands Rugby League president Charles Carlson said the team arrived in Florida on Monday. He said the players were acclimatising well to the conditions.
“We had recovery programme on the first day of arrival to adjust quickly to the time change. We went to the beach, had a game of volleyball and a swim and a bit of tiki tour to keep the boys awake so they can sleep at night. Some of us struggled the first night but slept well the second night so all good,” Carlson said.
The team coached by Tony Iro had their first training yesterday, starting with gym work followed by a big hit out on the field.
“There is a positive atmosphere and good energy in the camp. The weather is excellent and Jacksonville is a beautiful city.”
The team is thankful for the support they have received so far, especially from the government and the people of the Cook Islands.
Carlson said their trip to Florida was possible because of the generosity of the Cook Islands people, through Sports minister Mac Mokoroa, and the Cabinet, who responded to their call for support.
The government of the Cook Islands has actively supported a number of codes over the past few years and this has enabled netball, rugby, and rugby league to meet its international requirements and compete at the international level.
“Our boys will be mindful that our people at home, in the Cook Islands and government will be watching the game on Saturday, and that these boys will be playing for the pride of our tiny island nation,” Carlson said.
“We walk out onto that battlefield knowing we have the love and support of our people all around the world.”
Meanwhile the Hawks conceded they will face an uphill battle against the Kukis. Team coach Sean Rutgerson said the Cook Islands would be tough to beat as they boast NRL veterans like Alex Glenn and Brad Takairangi.
“It makes a massive difference with guys with that much experience in your squad,” Rutgerson told the 81thminute.com.
“Those guys are used to playing at a certain level and having a tough grind, whereas most of the American guys, and no disrespect, but we play a game over here that’s at a lower level with a lot less intensity, so it’s a big step up for them.
“When you’ve got NRL players in there to lead the way, it makes a massive difference. We don’t have too many of them, so it makes it a bit tougher for us.”
The Kukis versus the Hawks match will kick off at 12 noon on Saturday.
Sam Mataora (Belconnen), Alex Glenn (Brisbane), Tevin Arona (Canterbury), Aaron Teroi (Central Queensland Capras) Reuben Rennie, Vincent Rennie (Mounties), Uiti Baker, Kayal Iro (Newcastle), Moses McGreal, Paul Ulberg (Norths Devils), Narata Niukore, Brad Takairangi (Parramatta), Dominic Peyroux (St Helens), Troy Dargan, Steven Marsters (South Sydney), Adam Tangata (Wakefield), Anthony Gelling (Warrington), Journe Pua, Brodie Tamarua (Warriors)