9 Nov 2016

Sport: Cook Islands target World 7s Series return

1:58 pm on 9 November 2016

The Cook Islands are talking up their chances of a return to the Sevens World Series.

The men finished fifth at last year's Oceania Sevens Championship in Auckland.

But team manager Simon Iopu-Johnston said since then they've completely revamped their sevens programme in time for this year's tournament, which kicks off in Suva on Friday.

"We've looked at our personnel, in terms of who is off the field and who is administrating our team," he said.

"Also the players and I we've changed quite a bit: we've moved our physical fitness to another level, we've connected spiritually to our heavenly father, which is big in our culture of course.

"And of course we've also done a cultural piece so that carrot is all part of our huge programme and our big goal of actually getting back onto the World Circuit again.

"So these are all your incremental steps that we're putting in place to be able to reward ourselves as Cook Islanders and the boys too for the hard work."

The Cook Islands Sevens team during the 'Sevens in Heaven' competition.

The Cook Islands Sevens team during the 'Sevens in Heaven' competition. Photo: Facebook / Cook Islands International 7s

With Fiji, Australia and Samoa all established core teams on the World Series, the best teams outside of that trio will qualify for events on the men's World Series.

Simon Iopu-Johnston said the Cook Islands were capable of causing a stir this weekend, despite being drawn in a challenging pool alongside New Caledonia, Australia, Samoa and Nauru.

"With us it's all about the second-tier nations so we've got to come first in our lower tier to be able to qualify for the big tournaments - so Wellington and Sydney and Hong Kong and all that," he said.

"The top three, which is Fiji, Samoa and Australia, are probably irrelevant to what we're after in terms of our big goal.

"As long as we finish first above Tonga, PNG and the rest of them then we're in good stead to qualify."

"Everybody that's on the outside of the programme says it's the elephant in the room, we've got to beat those two teams (Samoa and Australia to make the semi finals) but what we've done is we've actually really recognised that we've got the talent, we've put a decent team together," he said.

"We've selected players from the Cook Islands also, and a few players from outside the Cook Islands, so that means that we've been able to train more together, play more together and we've been doing it for the past three months.

The second best non-core team will also qualify for the main draw of the Hong Kong Sevens.