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The Cook Islands, a collection of fifteen small islands in the Pacific Ocean between French Polynesia and American Samoa, burst onto the international Rugby League scene in 1995 when they won the Emerging Nations World Cup with a 22-6 victory over Ireland in the final at Gigg Lane, Bury.
Five years later the Cook Islanders stepped up to the main event: the 2000 Rugby League World Cup. The islanders performed valiantly in defeats against New Zealand and Wales, and notched their first point in a draw with Lebanon.
Named in honour of Captain James Cook, who landed on the islands in 1773, the population of the Cook Islands is just 20,000, making them one of smallest members of the Rugby League of nations.
Yet the islands have produced some of the game’s biggest names, including former Kiwi captain John Whittaker and the legendary Kevin Iro. Many more young players are now forging a path through the NRL competition.
Rugby league took a foothold in the Cook Islands in 1979 with a match between ‘town’ and ‘country’. The first international was played against Niue in the 1986 Pacific Cup.
The success of their 2009 Pacific Cup campaign, in defeating the established national teams of Samoa and Fiji before losing to Papua New Guinea in the final led to the Cook Islanders gaining a berth in the 2013 Rugby League World Cup.
The domestic Rugby League season currently involves seven clubs, six on the main island of Rarotonga and one side on the outer island of Aitutaki, and runs from February to May.
Former Australian international David Fairleigh will coach the World Cup side.