Cook Islands Aitu during their training session this week. Picture: Pilai Piksa 2023/23101216
Two Cook Islands youngsters have been earmarked as players to look out for ahead of the 2023 Pacific Championships which kicks off this weekend.
Cook Islands Aitu will take on Papua New Guinea Kumuls
in their opening match at 7pm tomorrow at Santos National Football Stadium,
Port Moresby (Cook Islands time).
In lead up to the round one matches; Fox Sports
highlighted a number of budding stars featuring for the teams competing in the
Among the 11 exciting talents were Cook Islands Aitu’s
Kayal Iro and Rua Ngatikaura.
“Iro hails from a storied rugby league family, with
both his father Kevin and uncle Tony being Kiwi icons. He made his NRL debut in
2022, playing a single game after signing on with the Sharks until the end of
2024,” Fox Sports said.
“At only 21-years of age, the gun outside back has
already played six Tests for the Cook Islands and has been named in the centres
for his side’s clash against Papua New Guinea.
“Iro will be desperate to impress Craig Fitzgibbon and
has already done enough to earn NSWRL’s NSW Cup Player of the Year in 2022,
whilst also winning three major awards for the Jets.
“With an ability to play in multiple backline
positions and Siosifa Talakai’s position in the centres not locked in, Iro will
be hoping to make a big impression at the Pacific Championships. He has also
previously been linked with a move to the Super League, with Castleford Tigers
reportedly keen on his services.”
Ngatikaura is signed on with the Tigers until the end
of 2024 and will get a chance to impress club powerbrokers, starting in the
No.9 for the Cook Islands. He worked his way through the Tigers’ pathway
system, having captained an unbeaten Jersey Flegg side in 2021. Ngatikaura’s
tough dummy-half runs and stocky figure has drawn comparisons with Roosters gun
“At 23 he also made his Test debut, playing for the
Cook Islands at last year’s World Cup. He made 15 appearances for the Magpies
in the NSW Cup this year, starting at hooker on 14 occasions and during his
time at the club then coach Michael Maguire labelled him “talented” and backed
him to feature in the NRL in years to come.
“Young gun Tallyn Da Silva has found himself winning
the Tigers’ No.14 jersey to close out the year, but with a number of strong
performances for the Cook Islands, Ngatikaura could be hot on his tail.”
Olam set to miss out
Fresh off an impressive Prime Minister’s XIII showing
which involved most of their squad, the Kumuls take on the Cook Islands in
their first home Test match in four years.
Former Titans coach Justin Holbrook made a promising
start to his tenure in charge of Papua New Guinea, going toe-to-toe with the
Australia PM’s XIII in an eventual 30-18 loss last month.
Having gained the services of Jack de Belin to go
alongside prolific Rabbitohs back Alex Johnston, the Kumuls have some good NRL
experience and players from the UK Super League who have enjoyed strong seasons
The Cook Islands don’t have that level of top-flight
personnel available but will be looking to kick off a new era under the
coaching of Karmichael Hunt in positive fashion, with a squad made up mostly of
former NRL players or emerging talent from lower levels.
In the most recent of their six head-to-head meetings
the Kumuls ran out 32-16 winners at last year’s World Cup, leaving the Cook
Islands still searching for their first win over Papua New Guinea.
Historically Papua New Guinea have been a formidable
force in matches played in Port Moresby and their last Test in the capital city
saw them produce an upset victory over the Great Britain Lions.
Papua New Guinea:
Jack de Belin will make his Test debut at lock for Justin Holbrook's side and
joins Dragons teammate Dan Russell and Titans prospect Jacob Alick in the
forward pack. Storm centre Justin Olam is the major omission from the 17 and is
under an injury cloud, but has been included in the wider squad, with Zac
Laybutt and Rodrick Tai named in the centres. Alex Johnston moves from his
usual spot on the wing to line up at fullback. Edwin Ipape is serving a
one-game suspension from the RFL and has not been named.
Brad Takairangi is the new five-eighth for the Cook Islands, partnering Tevin
Arona in the halves. Esan and Steven Marsters are set to combine on the same
edge as the centre-wing pairing, while NRL established forwards Davvy Moala and
Zane Tetevano headline the side's forward pack. Cronulla young gun Kayal Iro is
one to watch after being named in the centres.
Cook Islands Aitu squad: Tevin Arona, Rhys Dakin, Esom Ioka, Kadiyae Ioka, Kayal Iro, Makahesi Makatoa, Justin Estall-Makirere, Steven Marsters, Esan Marsters, Alvin Maungaati, Davvy Moale, Takai Mokohar, Malachi Morgan, Rua Ngatikaura, Pride Pettersen-Robati, Lucky Pokipoki, Reuben Porter, William Samuel, Brad Takairangi, Zane Tetevano, Isaiah Cooper-Tetevano. NRL / Fox Sports