9 May 2016

Sport: Cook Islands criticise NRL clubs after Lebanon win

12:25 pm on 9 May 2016

Cook Islands Rugby League have criticised NRL clubs for not respecting the international game and refusing to release players who want to play for their country.

The Kukis came from behind to beat Lebanon 30-20 in Sydney on Sunday in the final match of rugby league's international weekend.

Playing their first match since losing to Tonga in October's World Cup qualifier, the Kuki's crossed for the opening try of the match after just three minutes but went into halftime trailing 16-12.

Three more tries and a penalty ensured victory against a Lebanon team ranked two places higher internationally that will be at next year's World Cup.

Head coach Alex Chan said it's disheartening not to be taking a team to that tournament but they did themselves proud.

"Massive relief to get to the other side of this test and get the result we did. There's been a lot of pressure - from ourselves I think. I think a lot of it comes internally from ourselves in camp: we put a lot of it on ourselves to say that we had unfinished business from last year and the boys really come out and done themselves proud."

The Cook Islands squad prior to their test match against Lebanon.

The Cook Islands squad prior to their test match against Lebanon. Photo: Facebook / Cook Islands Rugby League

The Kukis squad was captained by Penrith Panthers forward Tupou Sopoaga but was largely made up of players from the NRL Under 20s and reserve grade competitions in New South Wales and Queensland, and some locals.

Parramatta Eels second-rower Kenny Edwards trained with Cook Islands squad on Thursday before being told that evening he will not be released by the NRL to play at the weekend.

Alex Chan said they wanted to select more first graders but were denied access by some NRL clubs, with players pressured to put money before country.

"It's always hard...I can understand the clubs' point of view in terms of it's a business for them but when you're talking international football this is an opportunity for these kids to

go out and be honoured to be selected to play for their people and their country. I think they've taken those opportunities from players by telling them your priority is here with the club, he said."

"There's been a few boys there that have stood to their word and said my first and foremost is to play for my people and my country. It's a great honour - as it should be - to be selected to play for your country and I think a lot of people have gone away from that mindset and they're thinking more with their wallet than their heart, you know."

"I think there's been added pressure from outside factors and a presence there from their employers that puts this extra pressure on the players to make a decision for the bloody club, not what they really want to do, which is disappointing."

Alex Chan said no players from last year's squad that played against Tonga and were available to play against Lebanon turned them down but it's an ongoing battle to get players released from their club sides.

Despite not qualifying for next year's global showpiece he was optimistic the Cook Islands will continue to find test matches to help them develop over the coming years.