‘Times we didn’t have any money’

Saturday November 16, 2019 Written by Published in League
Anthony Gelling last played for the Cook Islands four years ago. 19111550/ 19111551 Anthony Gelling last played for the Cook Islands four years ago. 19111550/ 19111551

Today, Cook Islands plays USA for the last place in the Rugby League World Cup. And as Anthony Gelling shows, one thing our team has in spades is commitment.

 

The players in Cook Islands rugby league team are funding many of their own costs. They have to organise their own accommodation, buy their own food for lunch and sort out own dinner to save costs.

“It works out good as we always had heaps to eat and so far no complaints with the food,” says Carlson. “So not only have we got good coaching management on board – they are also good chefs!”

Many of the players are professionals in the NRL or Super League – but they sacrifice the money and glamour to play for their nation. Some, like UK-based Anthony Gelling, have even paid their own airfares halfway around the globe.

Today the Kukis versus the Hawks match will be played in Jacksonville at the University of North Florida Rugby Field which Carlson describes as “your normal rugby league field”.

Jacksonville is known as the rugby league capital of USA – but Carlson says rugby league is still a minority sport in Jacksonville. With the success of their local club Axemen, though, they are hoping for a good crowd for today’s game.

That crowd will see a rare display of league from stars who usually run on for cashed-up professional teams. One is Anthony Gelling.

Gelling plays professionally in UK’s Super League competition, and he’s known as “the people’s champion”. There is a good reason for it.

Former international Kevin Iro says Gelling – also known as Gello – is one of the most patriotic players he has seen in the sport.

He’s like a throwback to another era: Iro says it’s very rare to see players like Gelling in the modern game.

“If the Cook Islands league guys can’t afford to get him down for a game, he will say ‘I will pay, just tell me where I have to be’. Flying all the way from England is not cheap,” says Iro.

“He is the people’s champion. When you get guys like that they are invaluable and hope this will inspire the new younger boys in the team.”

Charles Carlson, the president of Cook Islands Rugby League, agrees, adding Gelling has been 100 per cent committed to Cook Islands.

Cash-strapped Cook Islands Rugby League runs a tight budget that doesn’t allow them the luxury of getting their top players together for international matches.

But commitment from players such as Gelling, one of the most experienced national players, helps them put together a formidable squad, says Carlson.

“There were times we didn’t have any money to bring him across but he would get on that plane fly all the way from Manchester, England to Australia, play the game and back on the plane the next day,” Carlson says.

For the match against the USA Hawks, Gelling flew to New Zealand to catch up with family and then met up with the rest of the squad in Sydney before they left for Florida earlier this week.

Carlson says Gelling had to get release from his club because he is such a valuable player in their squad.

Most of the time it works well for him having a bye on that week or he gets the release to play because of his passion wanting to play for the Cook Islands.

Gelling says he is always available to play for his country.

The last time he played a full test match for the Kukis was four years ago against Tonga, in a 2015 world cup qualifier. The national side lost that match.

The long absence from the squad makes today’s match that much special for the 29-year-old.

“It is really special to play for our country and the test matches are few and far between at the minute but we’re really looking forward to getting more games and getting our little country out there,” Gelling told RNZ.

Gelling’s sacrifice and commitment is one of the many stories that will inspire the team in today’s do-or-die match.

 

 Anthony Gelling

Position – second-row forward, wing or centre

Height – 6 ft 5 in

Weight – 102kg

Club career

2012–17 Wigan Warriors

2018   New Zealand Warriors       

2019   Widnes Vikings       

2020– Warrington Wolves

Representative

2009 – Cook Islands          

2019   Cook Islands 9s

Anthony Gelling

Position – second-row forward, wing or centre

Height – 6 ft 5 in

Weight – 102kg

Club career

2012–17 Wigan Warriors

2018   New Zealand Warriors       

2019   Widnes Vikings       

2020– Warrington Wolves

Representative

2009 – Cook Islands          

2019   Cook Islands 9s

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