24 Jul 2017

Sport: Cook Islands wary of "unknown" Tahiti

12:54 pm on 24 July 2017

The Cook Islands insist they will not take Tahiti lightly after naming their squad for next weekend's Oceania Cup rugby playoff in Rarotonga.

Seven overseas based players have been included in the 26-man squad, which will be captained by former Auckland, Northland and Tasman player Francis Smith.

The winner will advance to a home and away playoff against a team from Asia for a spot in the final repechage tournament.

The RWC Qualifying Match between Fiji & Cook Islands, 2014.

The RWC Qualifying Match between Fiji & Cook Islands, 2014. Photo: Fiji Ministry of Information / Facebook

The Cook Islands have not played an international match since being thrashed 108-6 by Fiji in a Rugby World Cup qualifier three years ago but head coach Walter Tangata said the home side backed themselves to perform.

"I think we have a really good chance and I think that's something our current boys here understand that going forward and it's probably made the pressure a lot more easier going through," he said.

"In saying that we are actually just trying to focus on this one game first before we think ahead but I think everyone is excited about that opportunity to have a fourth team (from the Pacific potentially) in the World Cup."

Cook Islands Rugby Union president Moana Moeka'a said in May that financial constraints would force them to select less players from overseas to play for the national team.

Walter Tangata, who was appointed head coach after the sacking of Stan Wright in February, said funding issues was just one of many obstacles faced in the lead-up to next weekend's one-off clash.

"It's always a challenge really, firstly to get the players who are available to attend, due to work commitments and of course some of those players are playing in the (New Zealand provincial competition) and who are playing in higher levels of rugby.

"So it's a little bit of work to try and negotiate the availability of players but yes money is a concern so that's pretty much why we've tried to restrict a lot of the overseas players involved in this campaign."

The Cook Islands won the Oceania Cup in 2013.

The Cook Islands won the Oceania Cup in 2013. Photo: Bruce Southwick/Zoomfiji

The Cook Islands won the 2013 Oceania Cup in Papua New Guinea but did not compete two years ago, when Tahiti finished in second place behind PNG, and Tangata admitted their opponents were something of a mystery.

"Tahiti is an unknown beast aren't they? They're French citizens so I'm not sure what their entire make up is and we haven't really had any footage of late of what Tahiti's capable of, so we're preparing the best we can from previous history," he said.

"But we haven't really contemplated what the mix is going to be so I think it's going to be a tough ask but I think the boys are all prepared and they understand that past results count for nothing.

"So we're actually starting this preparation as we're going from scratch. We're actually treating Tahiti, we're going to give them the respect they deserve and hopefully it's going to be a good result for us."

Cook Islands squad:

Francis Smith, Stephen Willis, Sean Smith, Mathew Mullany, Alex Matapo, James Kora, O'Neal Rongo, Walter Tangata, Li Ponini, Te-Ara Henderson, Tiano Arona, Rangi Piri, Greg Mullany, Longo Leuta, Vatu Sika, Ilai Arona, K C Kora, Christian Hosking, Davey Mato, Mana Havi, Tupou Faireka, James Tofilau, Alex Olah, Timothy Tangirere, Jamian Iroa, Paki Ngaoire-Mani