Here we are again, another greatest team. This time, it is on the Cook Islands. One of the smaller Pacific nations in terms of rugby league, they have a hearts of gold as they put their bodies on the line and show passion, desire and heart to win and perform well. Boasting some talented players in their own rights, they are building and emerging as a talented rugby league nation.
So, without further adieu, here is our take on the greatest Cook Island side:
1. Johnathan Ford – If things had turned out differently, Ford could have been representing Ireland but instead, he opted to play for the Cook Islands at the international level. The bulk of his success came during his time at French rugby league side Olympique Toulouse but he did have a stint with the Sydney Roosters over two seasons, if the Roosters fans can remember him. He only played three games over that two year period but found his feet in France. He has since returned to Australia, most recently signing with the Wyong Roos in the NSW Cup where he has, again, excelled and helped Wyong become a quality side in the competition. As for where he played at junior level, it was the Macquarie Scorpions that gave Ford his first opportunity and that led to playing with the Newcastle Knights in the Holden Cup in 2008 and 2009. Ford has played for the Cook Islands in both the 2009 Pacific Cup and the 2013 Rugby League World Cup.
2. Anthony Gelling – He has forged a solid career out at the Wigan Warriors but what may not be known to all, is that at one point, he was a promising Sydney Roosters youngster. Hailing from New Zealand, his first club was the Horwick Hornets before he joined the Roosters and played for their Holden Cup side in 2009 and 2010. At that time, he is most famous – or, perhaps infamous – for defecating in a hotel room that led to his sacking from the club. After the sacking, he returned to New Zealand and played for the then Auckland Vulcans and his former junior side, the Howick Hornets, who won the 2011 Fox Memorial Competition. Then came Gelling’s big break, when on the recommendation of two former Wigan Warriors Kevin Iro and Dean Bell, the club signed him and gave him an opportunity. Since then, he has taken it in his stride and cemented a spot at the club. The centre/winger has played for the Cook Islands in the 2009 Pacific Cup, a test against Lebanon and at the 2013 Rugby League World Cup.
3. Brad Takairangi – Home is where the heart is and Takairangi has played all his footy in NSW, coming through the ranks as a Cronulla Sharks junior. In 2008 and 2009, he moved to the South Sydney Rabbitohs and played with their Holden Cup side during that time. His versatility has seen him cover numerous positions across the sides he has played, including back-row, five-eighth, lock and centre. 2010 saw him rewarded with his good form, earning a first-grade debut at the Sydney Roosters, whom he moved to. Over a three year period, Takairangi was used predominantly as a back-rower, before he made a move North to sign with the Gold Coast Titans. It was here that Takairangi was exposed to the five-eighth position, one he ended up performing well in as he showcased his creative, attacking nous. After showing his class at the Titans, Takairangi was all set to sign with the Wests Tigers before they unexpectedly backflipped on the deal. Instead, Takairangi then opted to sign with the Parramatta Eels ahead of the 2015 season. With five representative games for the Cook Islands to his name so far – a Test v Samoa and numerous World Cup appearances in 2013 – that is expected to rise as Takairangi plays more footy.
4. Peter Lewis – Hailing from the Upper Hutt region in Wellington, Lewis was picked up and signed early on by the then Auckland Warriors in 1998. He was a member of the Warriors unbeaten reserve grade side in 1998 and as a result, was selected in the Junior Kiwis squad. With other clubs interested, Lewis opted to remain with the Warriors for the 1999 season and was rewarded, playing in 11 games. That was the end of his appearances, though, and he spent most of the subsequent few years after that playing in the Bartercard Cup. In 2003, he caught another break, when he was picked up by the Penrith Panthers where he played two first-grade games. When he was not playing with the Panthers, he was playing for the St Mary’s Cougars side in the then NSWRL Premier League. 2006 saw him change clubs again, this time signing for the Parramatta Eels. Again, though, he only played in two first-grade games. After that time, he again returned to the Premier League. The first representative exposure for Lewis came in 1999 when he was picked in the New Zealand Maori side but after that, he only represented the Cook Islands. He played for them in the 2000 World Cup and the 2004 Oceanic Pacifica Rugby League Tournament. He played for them again in 2006 during 2008 World Cup Qualifying matches.
5. Steve Berryman – Huntly College is where it all started for Steve Berryman, as the first team he played for was the Taniwharau Rugby League Club in the Waikato Rugby League Competition in 1993. A true utility for his ability to cover five-eighth, centre, back-row and lock, it was not too long before Berryman became a representative of the Waikato Cougars side. In 2000, he made the move to the Wainuiomata Lions to play in the inaugural Bartercard Cup where he was captain and playing alongside former NRL player, David Faiumu. In 2001, good form saw him join the Manly Sea Eagles whom he played for in the NSWRL First Division. In 2002, he opted to stay on with the Northern Eagles. His first representative exposure came in 1999, when he was selected by the New Zealand Maori side and again in 2000, before he made a decision to switch his allegiances to the Cook Islands. Winning caps for the Cook Islands during their 2000 World Cup campaign, Berryman decided that a move to rugby union was the right thing to do. He played for Te Whanau in the Central Coast Sevens Rugby Tournament before he eventually returned to league. As it stands, he is currently captain-coach of the Toukley Hawks in the Central Coast Division of Country Rugby League.
6. Craig Bowen – A member of three now defunct Australian rugby league sides, Bowen’s career began for the Wests Panthers in the Brisbane Rugby League competition. Playing alongside Barry Berrigan at Wests, the five-eighth eventually forced his way into a rugby league system through hard work and determination. Opportunity first came in 1995 when he was signed by the Illawarra Steelers but they did not play him during his time at the club. His debut in the then Australian Rugby League came with the South Queensland Crushers. Playing in four games for them, he then moved to the Gold Coast Seagulls in 1997, before moving again, this time to the Adelaide Rams in 1998. He ended up playing a total of 9 first-grade games over those three years, scoring 2 tries in the process. After that, he returned to the Wests Panthers side in the Queensland Cup. His first representative honour came in 1995 when he was selected for the Cook Islands in the Emerging Nations Tournament, before he represented the Cook Islands again at the 2000 World Cup.
7. Isaac John – Born and raised in New Zealand, it was in Tokoroa whilst attending Forest View High School that saw John get his first taste of rugby league. Playing for local club, the Pacific Sharks and the Turangawaewae team in the Ngaruawahia Maori rugby league competition, John then played for the Waicoa Bay Stallions in the Bartercard Cup. His big break came after that when he played for the New Zealand U16’s side in 2004 and then the Junior Kiwis side in 2006. In 2007, he was signed by his first official NRL club, when the New Zealand Warriors came knocking. In that same year, he played in the NSWRL Premier League with the Auckland Lions, in addition to playing for the Stallions side in the Bartercard Cup. When the inaugural Holden Cup was introduced, John became an immediate fixture for the Warriors in that side, as he finished up with 25 appearances, one goal and four field goals. In 2009, John joined the Warriors full-time squad and after playing in the NSW Cup and the for the Howick Hornets, he got the opportunity he was after. First-grade in Rd 19 of 2009. In that year, he played in 3 games in total, 5 games in 2010 – including his maiden first-grade try – and just the one game in 2011. That prompted a move away and an opportunity presented itself in England with the Wakefield Wildcats, one that John took. In 14 matches, he scored 1 try and kicked 9 goals, before he was releasd by the club at season’s end. The Penrith Panthers was his next and current destination, with John filling in well over the last few years when there have been injuries to the Panthers squad. 2013 saw him represent the Cook Islands on four occasions in the 2013 Rugby League World Cup and surprisingly, in 2014, he earned an unexpected call-up to play for the Kiwis side for the 2014 ANZAC Test.
8. Jason Temu – Born and raised in New Zealand, the Marist Saints were the first team that prop Jason Temu represented and then in 1994, he followed coach Stan Martin to the Counties Manakau Heroes in the newly-founded Lion Red Cup competition. His form for the Counties side did not go unnoticed, as English side Oldham came knocking and offered him a three-year deal. He did not disappoint and quickly became a favourite as his powerful runs often laid the platform for the club over three years and 77 games. 1995 saw him experience his first taste of representative footy with the Cook Islands, when he was named in their Emerging Nations Tournament Squad, which the Cook Islands won. In 1998, after a successful stint with Oldham, Temu moved to the then Hull Sharks – now known as Hull F.C. – and spent the season with the club. That was followed by a stint at the Newcastle Knights, though that only produced three first-grade games for Temu and resulted in a move across the Tasman and back home, to the New Zealand Warriors. That was in 2001 and although he only played in four games, he was a mentor and advisor for the younger props coming through the ranks at the time. In 2000, Temu again represented the Cook Islands, this time in a World Cup, and was named as vice-captain of the team. After 2001, he retired from rugby league.
9. Daniel Fepuleai – A local Hurstville United junior, he was a part of the Endeavour Sports High squad that won the then Arrive Alive Cup in 2006. Signing with the St George Illawarra Dragons as an 18-year old soon after that tournament, he played for both their SG Ball side and their Holden Cup side. In 2009, during a stint with the Shellharbour Sharks, he was picked in the 2009 Cook Islands Pacific Cup squad. Ahead of the 2010 season, he signed with the Sydney Roosters but only made one appearance for the side across the season. Additionally, Fepuleai has also played overseas in the United States, playing for the New Jersey Turnpike Titans in the USA Rugby League competition. Fepuleai was also a member of the ‘Kukis’ side at the 2013 Rugby League World Cup. Currently, he plays for the Concord-Burwood Wolves in the Ron Massey Cup.
10. Fabian Soutar – Hailing from the mighty town of Wanganui in New Zealand, Soutar first dabbled in rugby league for the New Lynn Stag U13’s side. He then moved to the Glenora Bears and was a member of the Kelston Boys High Rugby League team that won the New Zealand Secondary Schools Championship. At the tender age of 17, Soutar made his debut in the Bartercard Cup in 2004 playing with the Mt Albert Lions, who won three straight titles in 2004, 2005 and 2006. Soutar was then called into the New Zealand Residents team that won the Trans Tasman Rugby League Cup. 2008 saw him move to Queensland to play for the Easts Tigers side in the Queensland Cup/Intrust Super Cup. He started out in the FOGS Cup and represented a Brisbane FOGS team in the Toyota Centenary Cup Tournament. After several years at the Tigers, Soutar now plas for the Central Queensland Capras.
11. Tinirau Arona – Born in the lovely city of Dunedin, New Zealand, as just 11 years of age, Arona move to Sydney and played his first junior footy with the St Clair Comets. As a result, he signed up with the Penrith Panthers junior ranks and was a member of their Holden Cup side in 2008 and 2009. At just 17, he made his international debut for the Cook Islands when he came off the bench in a loss to Samoa. In October of 2009, he then played in two more internationals for the Cook Islands. The next adventure saw Arona sign with the Newtown Jets in the NSW Cup in 2010 and after winning the club’s best and fairest award, the big opportunity came knocking when he signed with the Sydney Roosters. Making his debut for the club in Rd 4, 2011, he played in 13 matches in that year. 2012 saw him play in a further 20 games whilst 2013 was a down year for Arona, only playing in 3 games for the Roosters the entire season. This was the springboard for a move away where there was more opportunity and that came at the Cronulla Sharks. He made his debut at the start of the 2014 season and to date, over two seasons, he has played in 26 games for the club. Interestingly, Arona is cousins with current Penrith Panthers back-rower and Cook Islands team-mate, Tupou Sopoaga.
12. Zeb Taia – A prolific try-scorer for a back-rower – especially at his current club, the Catalan Dragons – Taia was a popular player among the fans of the numerous clubs he has represented. Born in the NSW town of Auburn, the junior footy for Taia was played at the Enfield Comets and the St Clair Comets, before the opportunity came to sign with the Parramatta Eels. He played reserve grade for them in 2005 before the first-grade opportunity came in 2006. After spending just two seasons there, he was granted a release and made a mid-season move to the Newcastle Knights. It was here that he established himself as a workhorse and a valuable player, becoming a mainstay in the Knights back-row for a total of six seasons. Grateful for everything the Knights did for him, the 2013 season saw Taia head to the other side of the world and sign with the Catalan Dragons, a team in the English Super League. His first representative appearance actually came with the New Zealand Kiwis when he was picked for the 2010 ANZAC Test but in the same year, he also played in his first representative game for the Cook Islands. His official Cook Islands debut came in a game against Lebanon in 2012 and he was captain of the ‘Kukis’ side at the 2013 Rugby League World Cup.
13. Meti Noovao – A versatile player during his rugby league days, Noovao started out at the Otahuhu Leopards in the local Auckland tournament. When the Lion Red Cup was formed in 1994, he joined the Auckland Lions and when the Auckland Warriors became an Australian rugby league team, he was immediately signed up as a junior. He was a member of the 1993 Junior Kiwis side and although his Lion Red Cup side lost in the 1995 grand final, his talents as a player and as a kicker were on display. In 1997, he made his first-grade debut with the Auckland Warriors but only managed to play the one game overall. He also played for the Warriors in the 1997 World Club Championship. This prompted a move to Australia and it was the now defunct Adelaide Rams team that came calling. That season did not go as well as he would have liked and again, Noovao only played in one game all season. 1999 saw him head to Queensland where he played for the Burleigh Bears in the QLD Cup and made a name for himself. After a few successful years there, he returned home to Auckland and played for the Otahuhu Leopards once again. His representative appearances for the Cook Islands started in 1995 when he was playing for the ‘Kukis’ at the Emerging Nations Tournament. This was followed by international appearances in both 1996 and 1997 at the Super League World Nines before it was capped off with performances and appearances at the 2000 Rugby League World Cup.
14. Patrick Kuru – He may have been limited to the New Zealand competitions but Patrick Kuru was still a big-name player when it came to representing the Cook Islands. In 1996, he played for the Bay of Plenty Stags in the Lion Red Cup and scored two tries in the back-row in a semi-final loss. His adventures have taken him to numerous teams and most recently, he is playing for Victorian rugby league side, the Altona Roosters. He captained the side to a title in 2010 and in 2005, he was chosen in an Australian Affiliated national side, representing Victoria. His Cook Islands debut came in 1997 at the World Nines Tournament, before a World Cup opportunity presented itself when he was selected in the 2000 Rugby League World Cup squad. After that, Kuru represented the Cook Islands in Test series against the New Zealand Maori side in 2003 and against Fiji in 2004.
15. Tere Glassie – The ‘I’ve been everywhere man’ type player, Glassie has been to a lot of clubs and enjoyed success at all of them in some form. His first major break came during a decent stint with the South Sydney Rabbitohs where he played three games. After that, came the stints in the lower grades with the likes of the Balmain Tigers, the Newtown Jets (two spells) and the Wests Magpies. After that, he headed across to England and numerous successful stints with Oldham, Leigh, Castleford and Dewsbury. Once those adventures were complete, he then returned to Australia and played in his second stint with the Jets. Currently, he plays for the Mounties side in the NSW Cup. International experience is something that Glassie has a lot of and it all came with the Cook Islands. He was a member of the 2000 World Cup squad and was also involved in the Cook Islands 2009 Pacific Cup clash.
16. Adam Tangata – A talented player that came up through the ranks of the Canberra Raiders, the hulking prop has made his mark when it has counted. That was in 2011 and saw him retained by the club’s feeder system Mounties, whom Tangata played for at both the NSW Cup level and the Ron Massey Cup level. As of earlier this year, Tangata embarked on a new adventure and headed overseas, signing a deal with English Championship side, Halifax. Already making inroads there, Tangata has the makings of a talented prop moving forward. At just 24, Tangata has made numerous appearances for the Cook Islands, including several at the 2013 Rugby League World Cup.
17. Keith Lulia – Born in Wollongong, rugby league was always in Lulia’s blood. His first taste of professional rugby league came in 2007 when he made his debut for the St George Illawarra Dragons. Across the season, he played in 7 games, before he made the move to a club where he truly established himself, the Newcastle Knights. It was during the Brian Smith era when Lulia joined the Knights and over four seasons with the club, he played in 46 games. During that time, he was used mainly as a centre and a winger, but Lulia is verastile and able to play in the back-row and at lock. After that stint was finished, he headed to the Super League and signed a deal with Bradford. Again, he performed well across the board and had a knack for scoring tries over his two seasons at the club, all of which came as a centre. 2013 saw him return to Australia as he signed with the Wests Tigers. Used rather sporadically across his time at the club – which he is still at and contracted to – he did equal a record, scoring the most tries by a Wests Tigers player in the NRL competition with 4. From a representative standpoint, Lulia has represented the Cook Islands five times at the 2009 Pacific Cup and as a member of their 2013 Rugby League World Cup squad.