Wright reveals extended Cook Islands squad

Former Cook Islands rugby captain and coach, Stan Wright. Picture: Cook Islands Rugby Union

RAROTONGA – Four overseas-based players will compete with a dozen locals for a spot in the Cook Islands rugby squad to play two World Cup play-off matches against Hong Kong.

Rugby league international Tyrone Viiga and ex-New Zealand Under 20s lock Shahn Eru are both playing professionally in France and have put their hand up for selection.

Otago captain and former Highlanders hooker Sam Anderson-Heather is in line to make his test debut, while Grenoble number eight Stephen Setephano remains a chance to add to his one test cap if he recovers from injury in time.

Returning coach and former captain Stan Wright said all but one player in the forward pack has first-class experience playing in New Zealand and Australia.

“I named a group of overseas boys to go back and fight for their spot with the local guys and the way I see it if everyone has their fair chance and a fair go no one can really complain at the end of the day,” he said.

“There’s a lot of Cook Island boys playing rugby at a high level, in New Zealand and other parts of the world, but it’s just getting the availability.

“You’ve got to understand it’s their bread and butter, it’s their income for some guys playing pro, and to make yourself available for the Cook Islands will make you a non-selectable player for a Super Rugby team – that’s sort of the battle we’re against.

“In saying that, the boys we’ve selected, they’ve got their chance and they’ve just got to go out and give it their best.”

The Cook Islands extended squad will go into camp in Rarotonga from June 17, with a trial match scheduled six days later to determine the final 26 players to contest home and away tests against Hong Kong, who beat Korea at the weekend to win the Asia Rugby Championship.

The winner on aggregate will advance to November’s four-team repechage tournament, with the repechage winner qualifying for next year’s World Cup.

Overseas-based Cook Islands players: Alex Casey (Brisbane), AJ Campbell (Brisbane), Alex Matapo (Auckland), James Pakoti (Wellington), Sam Anderson Heather (Otago), Matt Mullany (Wellington), Oneal Rongo (Northland), Shahn Eru (France), Tai Marsters (Counties), Tyrone Viiga (France), Eruu Wano (Bay of Plenty), Tai Ford (Brisbane), Teara Henderson (Wellington), Corry Tearoa (Perth), Walter Koteka (Perth), Will Raea (Counties), Reece Joyce (Counties), Josh Gordon (Otago), Gene Te Amo (Counties), Josh Tinomana (Perth), Brynn Uriarau (Hawkes Bay), Oisin Clarken (Melbourne), Justin Marsters (Sydney), Greg Mullany (Wellington).

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