The Cook Islands have lost a player as Eels forward Marata Niukore has been granted an exemption to represent New Zealand in this year’s Rugby League World Cup after coming desperately close to ruling himself out.
The New Zealand born player with Cook Island ancestry had played for the Cook Islands in three tests between 2017 and 2019 but in June, was part of the New Zealand team.
However, he was close to not making the World Cup at all as the International Rugby League’s eligibility rules states “a player can move between a tier one and a tier two nation freely, but this may not happen during a tournament, including qualifying for a tournament”.
Niukore played for the Cook Islands during a qualifying Test against the USA in 2019, meaning the Parramatta gun could not represent a different nation.
The regulations also state that a player who has represented one nation cannot then switch allegiances within a calendar year — leaving Niukore out in the cold.
Kiwis coach Michael Maguire elaborated on how they were able to resolve the situation Niukore had found himself in.
“He played a qualifying game three years ago for the Cook Islands and there is a rule that if you’ve played in a qualifying game, you couldn’t then play for another country (at a World Cup),” Maguire told stuff.co.nz.
“Marata had no idea of that rule at the time. He had the opportunity to play (for Cook Islands). Probably wasn’t as established as he is now as a first-grader, so he went and played.
“Fast forward to this year’s midyear test. Marata had knowledge that if he played in that test, there was every chance he wouldn’t play in the World Cup.
“But we were very fortunate that the committee for the World Cup looked at that situation, looked at the human side of things and allowed him now to be qualified to be able to play for New Zealand.”
Despite playing with the Cook Islands prior to 2022 the New Zealand born forward has always aspired to play for the country he was born in.
“Marata has always wanted to play for the Kiwis and showed that by playing the midyear test, knowing that there could have been a restriction on him playing at the World Cup,” Maguire said.
“But the international committee looked at it and felt there was enough for them to say he was able to play for New Zealand.”