League seeks ‘best of the best’

Thursday 13 May 2021 | Written by CI News Staff | Published in Rugby league, Sports

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League seeks ‘best of the best’
Kayal Iro, son of former Kiwi Kevin Iro, is one of the upcoming players expected to represent the Cook Islands at the Rugby League World Cup. 21051216

Cook Islands Rugby League (CIRL) is hoping to secure at least an international test match as a warm up game to the Rugby League World Cup to be held in England later in the year.

The NRL and International Rugby League are yet to release any details for the Pacific Tests in June, which would have served a perfect build-up for teams from the region heading to the World Cup.

Charles Carlson, the CIRL president, said ideally it would be great to have the Pacific Test as planned for June “but we can also understand the impact of this Covid-19 on the game and across all sectors”.

“We are hoping it will go ahead, but I think the chances are slim, also due to the uncertainty within the borders.

“This should have been confirmed by now because all teams need to prepare as there’s a lot of logistics involved in planning an international test match,” Carlson said.

The other major challenge is the release of top players from their NRL clubs to participate in the Pacific Test, he said.

“It has to be the best of the best squad we can assemble, as there is too much to lose or gain in these international test matches. We got left out in the wilderness for a couple of years and this is the reality we are faced with.

“We worked very hard to get the Cook Islands back on the world stage and the goal is to stay there. We owe this to players, coaches, supporters and our Cook Islands government for making that happen,” Carlson said.

According AAP, none of the Pacific nations have played a Test since the end of 2019, when Tonga shocked Australia and highlighted the rise of the international game.

However Covid-19 is now no longer a real logistical issue in playing the games, given the squads of Tonga and Samoa are made up almost solely of NRL players, it adds.

“Papua New Guinea and Fiji also have feeder teams in Australia to go with their NRL stars, with the only real challenge coming in the form of flying coaches over.”

The mid-year Pacific Tests are traditionally sanctioned by the IRL but are organised and run by the NRL.

The league initially took a financial hit on the games but in recent years have moved closer to breaking even. That has coincided with the rise of the Pacific game, with almost 50 per cent of players in the NRL now having Polynesian heritage.

If the Pacific Tests are cancelled, Carlson said they would definitely look to an international test match as a warm up game to the World Cup.

“The good thing is, every nation is affected and no nation has any advantage over another nation, so I guess in that sense that evens out the playing field.

“At this stage the World Cup is going ahead as planned, especially with the Olympic Games happening and including other major events happening in that part of the world months before the WC,” Carlson said.

Six months out from the biggest Rugby League World Cup in history, organisers are forging ahead with the event, while other codes have got cold feet.

The Rugby League World Cup for men, women and wheelchair athletes will draw teams from 21 nations, including several which are still struggling with Covid-19.

Thirty-two teams from countries within the United Kingdom, Europe, North, South and Central America, the Pacific Islands - including Cook Islands men's and women's teams - and the Caribbean have qualified.

The tournament in England runs between October 23 and November 27 and for the first time all three competitions will run concurrently.

Carlson said: “We are ready to take any opportunities that come our way, so just waiting patiently for the confirmation.”

  • Additional reporting by AAP/RNZ