Growing up, the 25-year-old Wairarapa Bush hooker, like many others in the Cook Islands, dreamed of playing for the All Blacks.
That did not eventuate, but his lifelong desire to play for the Cook Islands may come true when the national side takes on Hong Kong in the Rugby World Cup qualifying series.
The former Takuvaine player is one of the debutantes likely to make Stan Wright’s team in the series opener this Saturday at the BCI Stadium, starting at 3pm.
“To be honest, we all said while we were growing up that we’re going to play for the All Blacks but this is just as good, if not better,” Pakoti said.
“It’s a pretty unreal feeling and when I take a step back and think about it, it feels amazing. I met a lot of my aunties and families in church and they always tell me how proud they are of this.
“It feels really good to get that sort of support from the family and it makes you want to play for the country more. I’m truly blessed with this opportunity and I hope I get the chance to represent my country come Saturday.”
Pakoti said the stint with the national team was also a major boost to his rugby career as it gave him an opportunity to learn from some of the best in the game.
The coaching team led by Wright boasts some of the top brains in the sport, with the likes of former Australian dual international Andrew Walker, former Kiwi player Kevin Iro and former national rep Andrew Iroa.
“This international level rugby looks amazing in anyone’s resume and to have guys like Andrew Walker, Kevin Iro, Iroa and Stan, who has done this in the past and won European champions, is an absolute privilege.
“You don’t come across many guys like him (Wright) who is willing to put his hand up and take on the challenge, providing players like us with an opportunity to develop and represent their country.
“Everyone is excited about playing for the Cook Islands and ready to put their bodies on the line to create history by putting the Cook Islands through to the Rugby World Cup.”
Pakoti, who attended Avarua School, climbed up the rank from age group rugby to premier grade while playing for the Takuvaine club.
He attended Rotorua Boys High School in New Zealand where he continued his passion for the oval ball.
“I think I was lucky enough to play against Stan (Wright) in the last couple of years (for Wairarapa). We were playing against each other trying to make the team because we were both gunning for the same spot,” Pakoti said.
“I just got a call, asking if I was keen to try out for the team and I was like ‘yeah bro I’m keen’. This is how I got in the squad.”
Pakoti is excited with the prospect to earn his first Test cap for the Cook Islands. He is humbled and satisfied that while his childhood dream did not eventuate, his lifelong desire to represent the country may finally come true.
Note – Tickets to the match are selling at the Bluesky Cook Islands and Rarotonga Brewery. Stands – $20 at the door or $15 presale, family pass (2 adults and 2 children under-13) – $50. General Admission – $10 or family pass – $30.