Big names missing for Pacific teams is rugby league playoff
Pacific rivals Tonga and the Cook Islands square off this weekend for a spot at the Rugby League World Cup, but will be without some of their best players.
Tonga and the Cook Islands will be without a host of their best players for this weekend's Rugby League World Cup qualifying match.
The winning team will seal their spot at the 2017 global tournament but both coaches say club sides are making it difficult to pick their strongest sides.
Vinnie Wylie reports.
Cook Islands coach Alex Chan says there's a handful of players that wanted to play for the Kukis this weekend, and that he wanted to select, but were pressured by their NRL clubs to make themselves unavailable.
If anyone's to pay the consequence it's the players. A lot of the time the choice is taken away from them. I'd like to think the choices are made by the players but when a club turns around and says, for example, "I'm not real keen on you playing. You can go ahead but you jeopardise [you future with the club]" - when they start saying things like that then the players are starting to get spooked and worried about future selections and future contracts with their bread and butter. I think it's unfair on the player more than anyone, especially when they're so passionate about representing their people.
The Kukis only have six players with first grade experience in their squad compared to all but one of Tonga's 18-strong line-up. The Mate Ma'a is able to call on veteran campaigners like Sika Manu, Jorge Taufua and Ukuma Ta'ai for Saturday's winner-takes-all clash but have lost Tui Lolohea and Sio Siua Taukeiaho to the New Zealand team. Head coach Kristian Woolf says other players are also missing because of resistance from their clubs...and admits it's a difficult issue.
I've sat on both side of the fence, being at an NRL club. They put in a major investment for some of the players and obviously it's their investment, they want to protect it at times. I can certainly understand that point of view. At the same time as a code of rugby league we want to grow the international game [so] we also need to take a bit of a risk there at times and support it. There's still a few players that we would have loved to have had here that for different reasons were made unavailable. It ia certainly getting better and I hope it continues to improve.
Saturday's test in Sydney will be the first full international the Cook Islands have played in since competing at the last World Cup two years ago. Only five players from that team will be on the field this weekend but Alex Chan is looking forward to unveiling some new faces and says they won't go down without swinging. The International Development Manager for the Rugby League International Federation, Tas Baitieri, acknowledges there is a lot of frustration among the smaller nations.
I think the fact that commercially the games probably don't deliver the same outcomes as the tier one countries do. Rewards for playing are completely different when you're playing for the tier two countries. They don't come from any professional leagues other than the Australian league so there's a fair bit of work to do, by us, to try and even or balance it up so that everybody's on the same level playing field, and that's also including looking at the compensation that the players get for performing at this level.
Tas Baitieri says while many will view Tonga as heavy favourites for the match he believes it could go either way. And for those that can't make it to the ground, the match is being streamed live on the NRL website.
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