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Cook Islands World Cup predicted squad: No Val Holmes

The Cook Islands are one of rugby league’s strangest beasts. They’re pretty good, all things considered, and really good when you factor in that there’s only 18,000 people actually living on the archipelago. They should get to host NRL finals there too.

There’s another couple of hundred thousand in diaspora, of course, plenty of whom play rugby league. I’ve got two fun facts about rugby league in the Cook Islands, and you’re going to hear both of them.

One: Papua New Guinea is oft cited as the only country on Earth which has rugby league as its national sport, but that isn’t true: the Cook Islands are the other.

Two: the biggest disparity in populations at any world championships of any major team sport was when the Cook Island (pop: 18,000) took on the USA (pop: 330 million) at the 2013 Rugby League World Cup.

The Kukis have a long and proud history, having began their journey in 1995 at the Emerging Nations tournament – I was there as they defeated Ireland in the final in Bury – and will field a pretty decent squad this time around.

Their group is tough, with Tonga and PNG as well as Wales, but they will hold hopes of beating the Dragons first up and going head to head with the Kumuls after that.

The big issue is getting eligible players to actually play for them. Valentine Holmes would be their star, assuming he doesn’t get picked for Australia, followed by Jordan Rapana, Marata Niukore and Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad, except they’re in the Kiwis squad.

Joey Manu, Joseph Tapine and Josh Papali’i are also eligible, but have never come close to representing them.This is a common theme for coach Tony Iro.


Instead of focusing on who isn’t playing, let’s see who is. From the NRL ranks, you get Davvy Moale, Tepai Moeroa, Makahesi Makatoa and Esan Marsters, who was their star in the midseason defeat to Samoa.

His cousin Steven Marsters will also play, and family connections run deep: Kayal Iro, recently crowned NSW Cup player of the year, is the nephew of the coach and son of legendary Kevin Iro, and his Newtown teammates Vincent and Reubenn Rennie will join him.

Other lower grade/fringe first grade stalwarts include Xavier Willison, Brendan Piakura and TC Robati, all from the Brisbane system, and Pride Petterson-Robati – no relation, as far as I know – from the Warriors.

Moses Noovao-McGreal, Reuben Porter and Aaron Teroi are all Q Cup players and will travel.


There’s a fair few Super Leaguers knocking about as well. Tim Arona just left Wakefield and was the only Northern Hemisphere-based player to travel for the Pacific Tests, and will join along with Zane Tetevano, Dylan Napa, Kenny Edwards, Nathaniel Peteru and Dom Peyroux.

Let that sink in for a minute: imagine a forward pack containing Kenny Edwards and Dylan Napa at the same time. Chaos.

Johno Ford was the star at Toulouse when they got promoted, but his views on vaccinations precluded him from their Super League squad. He’s been at Featherstone in the Championship and is likely to get a call for much-needed halves experience.

Also from the English lower leagues, Paul Ulberg has played every game on the wing for London Broncos and Adam Tangata will be in the squad from Halifax.

Anthony Gelling, a star once upon a time in Super League and the NRL, was plucked out of the NZ domestic scene for a midseason appearance and will get another run. Reece Joyce, also on the Kiwi scene, played halfback midyear.

Dylan Napa

Dylan Napa. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)


Neither of the Molo brothers, Frank and Michael are likely to get picked for Samoa, so they’re a chance. What about Brad Taikairangi, off the radar since May after a drink-driving conviction while playing for Hull KR, but still looking for a club into 2023. He says he’s playing.

Geoff Daniela, now a school teacher in Western Sydney, played midseason but it’s unknown whether he will be able to go when the games are in England and not Campbelltown.

Backrow depth is pretty good, but Kobe Tararo will have a chance from Souths Logan, and fellow Magpie – of the Wests version – Rua Ngati is an option for hooker depth. Troy Dargan at Blacktown is also in the frame for playmaker depth.

Predicted Cook Islands squad

1 Kayal Iro
2 Steven Marsters
3 Anthony Gelling
4 Brad Taikarangi
5 Paul Ulberg
6 Esan Marsters
7 Johno Ford
8 Dylan Napa
9 Tim Arona
10 Zane Tetevano
11 Kenny Edwards
12 Dom Peyroux
13 Tepai Moeroa
14 Aaron Teroi
15 TC Robati
16 Makahesi Makatoa
17 Davvy Moale
18 Vincent Rennie
19 Moses Noovao-McGreal
20 Pride Petterson-Robati
21 Brendan Piakura
22 Nathaniel Peteru
23 Reubenn Rennie
24 Reece Joyce

World Cup Chasers is our new Rugby League World Cup podcast and will be released weekly all the way through to the final at Old Trafford in November.

It features exclusive interviews, plus expert analysis from The Roar rugby league writers Mike Meehall Wood and Mary Konstantopolous, as well as Michael Carbone from Chasing Kangaroos, the original international rugby league podcast.

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