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Saturday 14 October 2023 | Written by Supplied | Published in League, Sports


Tetevano draws on past as he  looks to future after stroke
Zane Tetevano in action for Cook Islands during last year’s World Cup. GETTY IMAGES/ 23101346

Zane Tetevano hopes to wind the clock back 14 years by helping Cook Islands to an upset win in his comeback after suffering a stroke earlier this year.

Tetevano and captain Brad Takairangi are the only survivors from the Cook Islands team which beat Samoa, Tonga and Fiji in the 2009 Pacific Cup and the pair believe there are similarities with the team taking on the Kumuls tonight.

“Myself and Zane were part of a young team, very much like we've got here now,” Takairangi said.

“We had maybe one bloke, Benny Vaeau, with NRL experience, and the rest of us were pretty much under 20s players but we had no worries in the world.

“We hadn’t played NRL before, so we didn't know who we were playing against. We just came out and played footy and we ended up making the final against Papua New Guinea.”

The pair have been telling the young players in the Cook Islands squad under new Karmichael Hunt about their experiences in 2009 and how the Pacific Championships and international calendar has given them a chance to build a strong squad.

Cook Islands play the Kumuls tonight and will stay in Port Moresby to take on Fiji the following weekend, with the final between the two highest finishing teams on November 5.

The Pacific Championships will again be staged next year and Cook Islands are also set to feature in the newly created 2025 World Series for a place in the 2026 World Cup.

“It's really good for Cook Islands rugby league to have these two games over the next couple of years because we’ve always struggled to get games for the Cooks,” Takairangi said.

"The more games we can get the more appealing it is for boys like Joey Manu, Valentine Holmes and Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad to play.

"They all qualify for Cook Islands but because there's been no games, there's been no point in them coming back."

The likes of Tepai Moeroa (Storm), Dylan Napa (Roosters), Frank and Michael Molo (Dragons) and Broncos duo Xavier Willison and Brendan Piakura were also unavailable for the Pacific Championships.

“The end goal obviously is to make the 2026 World Cup and if we can make that, and have all the boys who qualify for Cooks come back, it's really exciting what could happen," Takairangi said.

"We’ve got the 2025 World Series, and our main aim is to build our squad for that."

Tetevano is also hoping to be part of a bright new future for the Cook Islands if he makes a successful return against the Kumuls on Sunday.

The 32-year-old Sydney Roosters premiership winner suffered a stroke during the warm-up for training with Leeds in May and has not played since, but he has not given up on playing again in the NRL.

“I'm excited to play rugby league and kind of nervous too, about putting everything under stress for the first time,” Tetevano said.

“Health wise, I am sweet. I have been fully cleared to play and I’m still hungry.

"I’ll just see how these next two games go and make a decision after that.

“I want to stick around as much as I can and help out these young guys. Myself and Brad came in as young fellows and now we are trying to set a standard.”

Takairangi has told the players what it was like in 2009, with no-one expect the Cook Islands to win a game and the crowd outside the stadium in Moresby for the final almost as big as the one inside.

“We went to Cairns to play Samoa and the winner of that was going up to PNG. We were the same as everyone else; we just thought we were just going to Cairns for a seven-day holiday, and then going to go home,” he said.

“We ended up beating Samoa and five of the boys had to go back to Sydney to get their passports, because no one expected we’d be coming to PNG.

“I was telling the boys what the stadiums and crowds were like. It was crazy, they were knocking down the fences trying to get in.

“We're expecting a real hostile crowd on Sunday (tonight), but the boys are going to embrace it because we've done it before - we’ve come over here and produced some upsets, and we're looking forward to doing the same thing again.”

Tetevano and Takairangi both praised the coaching of Hunt, who never got the chance to represent his Cook Islands-born mother as a player.

“Since K's come in, he has some awesome principles that kind of align where I stand as well,” Tetevano said.

“I've been brought up on my Cook Island side, but all these years that I've been playing rugby league in Australia, I feel like I lost a lot of my identity so being around this group kind of draws me back in a little bit.

“I still don't know how to dance, I still know how to play the drums and stuff like that, but it is the language stuff that I’m still trying to figure out again.

“With more games there’s a lot more guys who will probably stick around a bit longer now.”

The Cook Islands versus the Kumuls match will kick off at 7pm (Cook Islands time).

  • Brad Walter/