16 Nov 2019

Sport: Cook Islands chase Rugby League World Cup return in USA

7:39 am on 16 November 2019

The Cook Islands are chasing their return to the 2021 Rugby League World Cup this weekend with a qualifying match against the United States in Jacksonville, Florida tomorrow.

The Kukis missed out on the 2017 World Cup after losing to Tonga in a playoff but their win over South Africa in June this year coupled with the return of experienced duo Alex Glenn and Anthony Gelling, will add some quality and experience to the 19-man squad.

Cook Islands captain Alex Glenn has played for the Brisbane Broncos since 2009.

Cook Islands captain Alex Glenn has played for the Brisbane Broncos since 2009. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Looking back, Gelling - who dons the green and white jumper for the first time since 2015 - says he's still frustrated with how they performed at the 2013 Rugby League World Cup, but they're now in the position to build and qualify for 2021.

"We let ourselves down massively. We lost that first game to the USA and then the game against Tonga could have gone either way and you look at what Tonga's gone on to do and you look at where we are now kind of struggling for recognition and struggling for test matches even though we had the squad - Dylan Napa, Jordan Rapana, Zane Tetevano - just loads and loads of talent, just went unrecognised," Gelling said.

"And I suppose we're in the position now to just build on what we had in 2013 and show people that we can play."

Gelling is going into this weekend's match with a point to prove, calling their last encounter a lost opportunity.

"There's only a few guys that played then that are playing now and they've been walking around with a massive chip on their shoulder - personally, I can vouch for that. We've got to fix what happened you know, the last time we played USA was in the World Cup and we've not been in the World Cup since," said Gelling.

The Cooks Islands performed strongly at the World Cup Nines in Sydney last month, beating the Tonga Invitational side and Fiji Bati either side of a narrow defeat by Toa Samoa, and the same squad is expected to take the field tomorrow.

Kayal Iro celebrates after scoring. Tonga v Cook Islands. Day 1 of the Rugby League World Cup 9s, Bankwest Stadium, Sydney, Australia, 18th October 2019. Copyright Photo: David Neilson / www.photosport.nz

Photo: © Photosport Ltd 2019 www.photosport.nz

Gelling has joined the petition called from other players and coaches of the Pacific Nations for more test matches, saying it will grow the game, provide a more balanced opportunity for teams and is the perfect platform for up-and-coming players to get some recognition.

"This is the perfect platform for them. I've been playing in the UK now for eight years and that was made available through the games I played for the Cook Islands in 2009 so if we can get some more test matches for our country, you know you can see the talent that's coming through, it's going to give them a platform to put themselves out there and make them eligible to play in the UK or the NRL," Gelling said.

He said his four year absence from the squad makes tomorrow's match that much special.

"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," he said.

Anthony Gelling celebrates his try against the Dragons.

Anthony Gelling celebrates his try against the Dragons. Photo: Photosport

Cook Islands squad:

Kayal Iro, Paul Ulberg, Reuben Rennie, Anthony Gelling, Steven Marsters, Brad Takairangi, Troy Dargan, Sam Mataora, Aaron Teroi, Jounre Pua, Dominique Peyroux, Marata Niukore, Moses Noovao-Mcgreal, Vincent Rennie, Brody Tamarua, Tiven Arona, Adam Tangata, Uiti Baker, Alex Glenn (c).