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Cook Islands seal Rugby League World Cup qualification

The Cook Islands have qualified for the 2021 Rugby League World Cup after beating the USA 38-16 in their final play-off clash in Jacksonville, Florida.

The Cook Islands have qualified for the 2021 Rugby League World Cup. Photo: Cook Islands Rugby League

The Kukis opened up a 12-0 lead inside the first 17 minutes following tries from Troy Dagan and Anthony Gelling but the Tomohawks scored either side of half-time to cut the deficit to two points just one minute into the second spell.

However, the visitors could not be contained for long and eventually ran in five further tries to run out comfortable winners to secure their third trip to a Rugby League World Cup and first since 2013.

Captain Brad Takairangi said it was an ugly game but they got the result they needed.

"It's been a long time between drinks, I guess," he said.

"We missed out in 2015 to qualify for the 2017 World Cup, and losing that game to Tonga was heartbreaking, so it was really good that a few of us old boys put our hands up and got the opportunity to play this game, and we sort of owed America because the last time we played them in the World Cup they beat us."

The Parramatta Eels utility back said strong winds made it difficult out in the middle, with the home side using the gusty conditions to catch the Kukis out with short restarts.

"We knew it was going to be tough coming all the way over to America for this qualifier and the conditions were pretty atrocious out there today," he said.

"But to get that win and put our little nation back on the map and head towards that World Cup in 2021 is pretty special for us."

Yesterday's victory at Hodges Stadium over the Tomohawks avenged defeat to the USA during the Cook Islands' last World Cup appearance six years ago.

It's only the fifth test match the Kukis have played since 2013 and Takairangi admitted it had been a "frustrating process" watching the likes of Tonga and Fiji kick on while they were left in the international wilderness.

But, after a resounding win over South Africa in June, a strong showing at the World Cup Nines and with the Oceania and World Cups to look forward to, he hoped it would mark the start of more regular action on the international stage.

"It sort of feels like that the whole of the world has been against us," he said.

"We had our own sort of bubble and we stuck to that, had a really good camp and to be able to have have a few games to look forward to, two games guaranteed next year leading into the World Cup is massive for us.

"We can't wait to have to build on this and we've got so many talented players playing in the NRL and the Super League that are of Cook Island heritage so who knows what's going to happen in the future. Hopefully we get a lot of them coming back and we can sort of do a similar thing to what Tonga have done."

New Zealand internationals Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad, Jordan Rapana, Zane Tetevano and Esan Marsters all made their test debut for the Cook Islands, while Kiwis teammate Joseph Manu is of Cook Island, Maori and Tongan descent.

Takairangi has watched the rise of Mate Ma'a Tonga over the past two years and believed the Cook Islands could achieve similar success if they were able to select their strongest team.

"I think 100 percent," he said. "You see what Tonga have done with all their big stars coming back to play for Tonga and how successful they've been.

"The only thing with us is there's been no games for the boys to play so they're always going to play for the Kiwis or the Kangaroos but we've got a lot of players, especially in the Kiwis squad...hopefully we will be able to get together and really put our country on the map."

"We're only a tiny nation but I hope this is a stepping stone to something really special and we've got so many good young kids coming through like Steven Marsters, Kayal Iro, Reubenn Rennie. We've got a lot of young kids who really played really well and we'll see them playing NRL in the not too distant future."

Source : Radio New Zealand

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