Cook Islands rugby league has challenged their star players to make a daring move and join them for the Rugby League World Cup 2021.
Players like Valentine Holmes, Dylan Napa, Esan Marsters, Joseph Manu, Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad and Zane Tetevano are of Cook Islands heritage but play internationals for the Kangaroos and the Kiwis.
But the national rugby league body is hoping these players have a change of heart and play for the Kukis instead at the World Cup.
Charles Carlson, the president of the Cook Islands Rugby League, says at the end of the day, it comes down to the player’s decision and they respect that.
However he said they were hopeful their star players choose them ahead of their highly-fancied top sides.
“The change in the rules have favoured the Pacific nations immensely where players not selected for Australia and New Zealand can play for a tier team of their heritage providing they meet the criteria,” Carlson said.
“Wouldn’t it be great if players pick the Cook Islands first and then play for the Kiwis or the Aussies if they can’t make our squad? That is where we want to be!”
Cook Islands has been placed in Group D with Tonga, Papua New Guinea and Wales.
If the Kukis are able to assemble a formidable side comprising some experienced and star players, they can give the top teams at the World Cup a good run for their money.
Carlson said: “Obviously at this level of the game we will be selecting our very best players playing professionally in NRL and Super League in England. “However, we also do have a number of players playing in the Queensland and New South Wales Cup level that are pushing themselves to the next level which is exciting for us.
“We expect a couple of these players in our squad, to be making their debut in the NRL this year and come 2021, we will be in a much better position to field a very strong team.”
Cook Islands rep Brad Takairangi earlier told Radio New Zealand that he hopes the World Cup 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.”
- Additional reporting from RNZ