Cook Islands head coach Tony Iro believes six countries are genuine contenders for the World Cup this time around.
Iro’s side will feature in Group D of the tournament alongside big-hitters Papua New Guinea and Tonga as well as John Kear’s Wales.
The Kukis open their campaign against Wales in Leigh on Wednesday, October 19.
And Iro, a former New Zealand international, believes the World Cup trophy is an open competition, despite Australia being massive favourites to retain their title.
“It has been nice to see other Island nations and their players commit to their countries,” Iro told Love Rugby League. “It’s brought what I believe is a really even mix across the teams.
“I think realistically there could be six sides that could go close to winning it. Hopefully, a few sides like ourselves can upset a few along the way.”
Tony Iro: I’ve been told it’s the pool of death
Cook Islands faced Samoa in a mid-season clash in Sydney as part of their World Cup preparations, falling to a 42-12 defeat at Campbelltown Sports Stadium.
In the forthcoming World Cup, they face Papua New Guinea in Warrington before meeting Tonga at Middlesbrough’s Riverside Stadium.
“I’ve been told it’s the pool of death,” Iro joked.
“We’re just looking forward to the opportunity of playing some quality opposition. Wales are a bit of an unknown for us but we know plenty of the Papua New Guinean and Tongan boys.
“As most of our team, they play regularly in competitions and we’re looking forward to the challenge.
“I think we have the squad to do it (reach quarter-finals). There’s a lot of build up to our first game which is going to help us.
“We haven’t had a warm-up game at all. We’re going to have a nice opposed session against Greece on Friday and that should top us off. We’ve got enough players in our squad playing NRL and Super League that if we play well enough, we’ll cause some trouble for all three teams.”