Both the men’s and women’s league teams will face their demons in next year’s Rugby League World Cup.
The draw was announced yesterday. And after early matches against Wales and Papua New Guinea, on Sunday, November 7, the men’s team will face Tonga in a passion-driven Pacific clash that already has league pundits excited.
Tonga has beaten Cook Islands 11 times from the past 12 clashes – but last year at the World Cup 9s, the Kukis triumphed in a 30-7 boil-over.
David Joyes, from Middlesbrough Football Club, said they were delighted to welcome Cook Islands and Tonga to their Riverside stadium. “It’s the final game of the group stage and there is a real Polynesian rivalry between the two countries so it should be a cracking occasion.”
Three days later, just down the road in York, the Moanas will come up against Australia – the team that beat them 58-4 in what they recall as a “baptism of fire” as the 2017 World Cup.
Cook Islands Rugby League president Charles Carlson welcomed the announcement of the draw. “We are pleased with the draw and well aware that all games will be tough,” he said.
“The Tongan game will definitely be a battle of the Pacific after the Cooks humbled a star-studded Tongan outfit at the World Cup 9s. No doubt the tournament helped restore the belief, the passion and determination to make sure we do qualify for the World Cup 2021.
“For the men, the goal is to make the top 8 placing to automatically qualify for World Cup 2025 and then battle it out in the playoffs to make the Grand Final, that’s the dream!”
He said the Moana squad received “a baptism of fire” at their first World Cup in 2017, getting thumped by Australia 58-4, then worse at the hands of the Kiwi Ferns 76-0.
But they had a “brilliant finish” when the upset England 22-16. “We’ve had four years to prepare for World Cup 2021 so a lot has happened since and anything can happen at this event.”
Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen said, “we have some top-quality rugby to look forward to”.
“The Cook Islands and Tonga are practically neighbours, and it’s a real honour to be hosting a South Pacific derby right here.
“Not only do we get to host this brilliant fixture, we are also looking forward to welcoming the Cook Islands to their home away from home, as they will be using the region as their base throughout the tournament.
“They’ll be able to take advantage of our exceptional facilities that helped us win our hosting bid.”
But down in York, which is hosting four women’s teams at the LNER Community Stadium, they made no claims to be backing the Cook Islands!
Town councillor Darryl Smalley said: “Having both semi-finals will be incredible and we hope to see England play and win.”