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Hunt named new Kuki coach

Tuesday 10 October 2023 | Written by CI News Staff | Published in Rugby league, Rugby Union, Sports


Hunt named new Kuki coach
The newly appointed Cook Islands rugby league coach Karmichael Hunt. Main photo courtesy of Zain Mohammed /QRL/23100924

Having been robbed of the chance to represent his Cook Island heritage on the playing field two years ago, Karmichael Hunt is relishing his new role as the country’s head coach.

During a brief return to the NRL in 2021, Hunt was convinced by his then teammate Alex Glenn to head away to that year’s World Cup with the Cook Islands, a nation he qualified for through his mum Matera who hails from the island of Rarotonga.

But when the pandemic caused the tournament to be postponed, and Hunt stepped away from top-level footy at the end of that season, dreams of a final fling on the Test scene disappeared.

So earlier this year, during a season in which he won the Queensland Cup’s coach of the year award for his efforts with Souths Logan, Hunt jumped at the opportunity when the nation's now former coach, Tony Iro, approached him about taking over.

“This is a very special chance to represent half of my heritage,” Hunt, a former professional New Zealand rugby footballer who last played for the Brisbane Broncos in the National Rugby League, told

“I don’t think it’s very well known that I’m a Cook Islander at all. People know that I am of New Zealand descent and pledged allegiance to Australia, but this is about being able to reconnect with my heritage and my history.

“Mum is a Cook Islander and I used to get shipped over there every school holidays when I was young. It was a second home to me growing up.

“I came close to playing when I ventured back into league as a player before I retired in 2021.

“I was on my last legs and ‘Sponge’ [Iro] and Alex Glenn were talking to me about it. There was an opportunity there, but I don’t know how much help I would have been at that point!”

Cook Islands Rugby League president Charles Carlson said they were delighted to have Hunt on board for the next three years. Iro will remain in the national team set up as technical advisor.

“We are delighted to have Karmichael on board and, especially being a Cook Islander coaching at this level of competition. It is important to bring him on board now as we prepare for the World Cup qualifying possibly in 2025 to secure one of the last two spots for World Cup 2026,” Carlson said.

Hunt will kick off his tenure with a clash against Papua New Guinea at the Santos National Football Stadium in Port Moresby on October 15, before playing Fiji a week later at the same venue.

With their path to the 2026 World Cup now confirmed to include taking part in the inaugural IRL World Series in 2025, Hunt has named a Pacific Championships squad with a mix of youth and experienced campaigners.

Former Kiwi internationals Brad Takairangi and Zane Tetevano headline the group along with promising Rabbitohs forward Davvy Moale, while with the help of Iro – who will remain on the staff in an advisory role – they’ve found players like Esom and Kadiyae Ioka from the Auckland club scene.

“There were a few players we would have liked to have picked but weren’t available, so alongside those experienced guys there are a group from that level below the NRL,” Hunt said.

“Sponge knows the squad inside out and we have been on Zoom calls every week talking. He has given me the lead on all footy aspects and is helping me navigate everything.

“We’re looking forward to it. Papua New Guinea first up over there will be a huge challenge.”

Carlson said with 10 debutantes in this squad of 21 “obviously he (Hunt) is looking to develop a bigger pool of players moving forward”.

“The Cooks have lacked international test matches in the past and are grateful for the opportunity to be part of the Pacific Championship. The Cooks is also guaranteed to be part of the Pacific Championship 2024, therefore strengthening its position prep for the qualifying round.”

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.