Cook Islands’ amateurs battle the odds
They get only their gym membership covered by playing rugby for the country and it will be a race against time to gel as a team, yet the Cook Islands believe they can qualify for the Sevens World Series, said New Zealand-based coach Chad Tuoro.
"We have players with the rugby pedigree and we're here to win, but my biggest problem is that the players are spread across three countries - New Zealand, Australia and Cook Islands - and we only met a couple of days ago in Auckland before flying here," Tuoro said.
"I can't get them regularly as a group and this is our main drawback. The players have prepared the best they can individually, and over the next few days we will try to get our combinations working, but there is no question we are hungry for a berth in the World Series."
Cook Islands qualified by finishing as the top non-core team in an Oceania Sevens tournament, which also featured big guns Fiji, Samoa and Australia. American Samoa, the second side from Oceania, finished behind them.
Since "the players based in the Cooks get only their gym membership covered", said Tuoro, the team of amateurs will miss captain Ashley Drake who could not get time off work. "We have no resources to pay these guys and it is difficult when you consider our many commitments over the next few months," Tuoro said.
"Apart from trying to qualify as a core team this weekend, our main focus is on the Commonwealth Games in July and that will be followed by the Oceania Sevens, after which we have been invited by the IRB to take part in the Gold Coast Sevens, which is the first leg of next season's World Series.
"Rugby is probably the biggest sport apart from rugby league back home in the islands and it would be a huge thing if we were to qualify for the World Series. But our first aim is to finish in the top two in our pool and make it through to the quarter-finals. We will take it from there."
Cook Islands are drawn with Japan, Uruguay and Trinidad and Tobago in pool G in the 12-team qualifiers. The top two teams from each pool plus the two best third-placed teams qualify for the quarter-finals on Saturday.