Cook Islands kick off 2013 World Cup preparations with a win

One side is preparing for the upcoming World Cup, the other honing their skills in preparation for continued rugby league development as well as the 2017 World Cup – but it was the Cook Islands who came out on top against a spirited Lebanon side last week.

Prior to their clash last week, the two sides last contest ended in a thrilling 22-all draw back in 2000 at the Millennium Stadium – with the Cook Islands to play in the World Cup for the first time in 13 years.

It was a closely fought contest for most of the first-half, as both sides battled it out with a precise kicking and brute strength – before it looked as if the Islander side would run away with it in the second half, stretching their lead out to 28-6 at one stage.

Some late lapses from the Cook Islands cost them, as they let the Cedars back into the game on the back of three quick tries, as Lebanon cut the deficit to just 4 points, with the Islanders hanging on for victory.

Cook Islands Coach David Farleigh was disappointed that his side dropped off in that manner, to allow the Cedars back into the contest.

“We created heaps of opportunities but dropped the ball way too many times, and we were guilty of clocking off with 15 to go when we thought we had the game won,” admitted Fairleigh.

“There’s no clock here and no scoreboard, so I think everyone was a little bit confused about the score, but it was a four-point ball game with a minute to go and I think everyone just scrambled well. Considering we only trained twice together this week, it was a good effort.”

With the Cooks missing Zane Tetevano, Brad Takairangi and Sam Mataora through injury, as well as Alex Glenn and James Tamou who opted for New Zealand and Australia respectively – Fairleigh remains adamant that his side can and will be competitive in the World Cup.

“We’ll be competitive,” Fairleigh insists.

“I don’t think anyone expects us to win the World Cup, but certainly we want to be competitive within our pool and we think we can do that if we’ve got all our best players on the field.”

Fairleigh is hopeful that all players that play in the NRL or the ESL will be available for selection as they near the World Cup – with former Cooks captain, now CIRL Commissioner Tony Iro, foreseeing a very good World Cup for the minnow nation, if they can stay injury free.

“I just can’t wait. It’s a showcase for Rugby League and I believe we’ve been placed in a good pool with USA and Wales, and we’ve just got to go there and be positive, and hope that not too many of our top guys get injured. We’ve probably got a solid 15 guys that have played NRL, but if two or three of them go down then it’s a big dent in our team.”

All the players are excited by the challenges that lie ahead, with Wigan Warriors centre Anthony Gelling looking forward to playing against some of his Superleague teammates in the near future.

“We’ve got quite a few Welsh boys at Wigan – Gil Dudson, Ben Flower and Rhodri Lloyd – and they’ll be playing against us in our pool, so we’ve been talking that up at training all week. It should be a good little rivalry,” said Gelling.

Zeb Taia, who is off to Catalans for the next couple of seasons, says that the health competition for spots for the World Cup in 2013, is a good thing for the team.

“Everyone knows that they have to play well next season to be part of the World Cup, because we’ll have a pretty good team once we have the full squad back and everyone’s fit. There were a couple of young fill-ins for us today, but they did a good job and everyone’s happy with the win,” Taia said.

“From this part of the world, I think Samoa and Tonga are the best two Pacific island nations, but I reckon Fiji will be the surprise package at RLWC2013,” Taia adds.

Cook Islands Rugby League President Charles Carlson, will see his side based in Bristol – and admits that at first, they were surprised when it was suggested to them, that they should make their base in the South-West of England.

“I was in Bristol in May and I’m very pleased to see the whole city is really getting behind RLWC2013 and providing the Cook Islands with a base,” said Carlson.

“The support we’re getting from the key people in Bristol is awesome, and we’re really pleased with the access to the resources and facilities we’ll have there. It will be great to have the whole city behind us and supporting the Cook Islands, and I know they will do that. We want to create a little piece of the Pacific in Bristol.”

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