Rugby League

Growing number of Cook Islands stars also named in New Zealand squad

New Zealand selectors may have robbed Cook Islands of compiling its best players for a tilt at the 2022 Rugby League World Cup.

NRL stars Joseph Manu (Sydney Roosters), Marata Niukore (Parramatta Eels), Charnze Nicoll-Klostad, Jordan Rapana and Joseph Tapine (all from Canberra Raiders) have been named in the initial 38-man Aotearoa squad.

The same players have been listed to play for the Cook Islands.

The Pacific nation’s free association status with New Zealand ensures that Cook Islanders are eligible to play for the Kiwis at the tournament in October 2022.

Cook Islands president Charles Carlson was still confident the islands could field a “strong” squad.

“Great to see these players being considered for the Kiwi World Cup squad in October 2022, but we are still a year away from making a decision,” Carlson said.

“The final squad will come down to their performance during the 2022 season, not on past years performances.

“These players undoubtedly stood out during the season and were unfortunate, with Manu and Klolstad suffering some severe injuries.

“Marata was the surprise choice at centres for Parramatta, having played his career as a second-rower but had an exceptional season.

“Rapana switching to the fullback for the Raiders, replacing the injured Klolstad, also had an awe-inspiring season.

“These players are also on our list, so their choice who they represent at the World Cup.”

A number of eligible Cook Islanders debuted in the NRL this year.

It has given Carlson renewed hope ahead of heading to Britain for the tournament that has been postponed a year after Australia and New Zealand withdrew over the affects of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Carlson also said national selectors may appeal the eligibility criteria to challenge the ruling on top-line players of Cook Island descent.

“We always struggled with the small pool of players playing at the highest level of competition, but that number is slowly growing, and the future is looking good,” he said.

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