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Opinion

Niukore given special exemption

Monday 19 September 2022 | Written by Supplied | Published in Rugby league, Sports

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Marata Niukore has been given a special exemption to play for the Kiwis at next month’s Rugby League World Cup.

Under International Rugby League rules, the Warriors bound forward wouldn’t be allowed to play in the tournament.

The reason for this is that he played for the Cook Islands in a World Cup qualifying test against the USA in 2019. Earlier this year he played for the Kiwis against Tonga at Mt Smart Stadium.

Under the rules, Niukore shouldn’t be able to play for either the Cook Islands or New Zealand at the tournament.

Rule 10 of the International Rugby League’s eligibility rules for international rugby league states a player can move between a tier one and a tier two nation freely, but this may not happen during a tournament, including qualifying for a tournament.

So that rule blocks Niukore from playing for the Kiwis at the World Cup.

Then he gets hit by rule three, which says a player who has elected to represent a nation cannot then elect to represent another nation in the same calendar year.

This rule stops Niukore switching back to representing the Cook Islands at the World Cup.

Kiwis coach Michael Maguire explained the predicament Niukore found himself in and how they were able to find a solution.

“He played a qualifying game three years ago for the Cook Islands and there is a rule that if you’ve played in a qualifying game, you couldn’t then play for another country (at a World Cup),” Maguire said.

“Marata had no idea of that rule at the time. He had the opportunity to play [for Cook Islands]. Probably wasn’t as established as he is now as a first-grader, so he went and played.

“Fast forward to this year’s midyear test. Marata had knowledge that if he played in that test, there was every chance he wouldn’t play in the World Cup.

“But we were very fortunate that the committee for the World Cup looked at that situation, looked at the human side of things and allowed him now to be qualified to be able to play for New Zealand.”

The 26-year-old Niukore was born in Auckland and it had always been his dream to play for the Kiwis.

He has had a sensational year for the Eels, playing in Friday night’s semifinal against the Raiders, but from next season will be at the Warriors.

While it appeared cut and dried that Niukore shouldn’t be able to play for any nation at the World Cup, New Zealand Rugby League made the point that there were an unusual set of circumstances which led to this situation, including the World Cup being put back a year, because of Covid-19.

“Marata has always wanted to play for the Kiwis and showed that by playing the midyear test, knowing that there could have been a restriction on him playing at the World Cup,” Maguire said.

“But the international committee looked at it and felt there was enough for them to say he was able to play for New Zealand.”

There’s no doubt Cook Islands coach Tony Iro would have loved to been able to include a player of Niukore’s quality in his side, but Maguire said they accepted Niukore’s position.

“The Cook Islands guys, to their credit, they’ve been across this and have supported the situation as well,” he said.

“They were aware that Marata one day hoped to play for the Kiwis, so it’s a credit to the Cook Island people to get behind the pathway Marata has gone down.”

  • David Long/Stuff