World Cup Preview: USA v Cook Islands

The Rugby League World Cup heads to Bristol on Wednesday as the Cook Islands take on USA, to finish off the first round of games.

The “Kukis” are based in Bristol for the tournament, and are coached by former Australia and St Helens forward David Fairleigh.

They take on an American side boosted by their surprise warm-up match victory over France.

The Cook Islands are making only their second appearance in the Rugby League World Cup, following a topsy-turvy campaign in 2000. Then, they gained just one point from their three games, following a thrilling 22-all draw with Lebanon at the Millennium Stadium.

Catalan centre Zeb Taia believes they can do much better this time, and has targeted a place in the quarter-finals.

He said: “We are coming up against the USA and Wales, who are in our pool, and we have got a cross-over game against Tonga as well so we definitely want to win all of our games. If we can win our pool we will want to make it to the quarters.”

Captain Taia isn’t the only Super League player in the 19-man squad – Wigan’s Anthony Gelling and Bradford’s Keith Lulia also feature, while former Wakefield half Isaac John is another familiar face.

USA are captained by Parramatta stand-off Joseph Paulo, and they have more NRL experience from the likes of Paulo’s brother Junior, Eddy Pettybourne, Clint Newton and Joel Luani.

Southampton Dragons half-back Craig Priestley gets a start at seven, while New Jersey-born Mike Garvey features at centre, alongside Hawaiian three-quarter Loto Tagaloa.

Coach Terry Matterson said: “This was a really tough selection process. With three games in eight days all of the squad will be needed with this tough schedule.

Mark Cantoni and Ryan McGoldrick are the only players not considered.”

Verdict: Should be interesting to see the final two nations at the World Cup. Tough to call, but USA to edge it

Cook Islands 19-man squad: Tinirau Arona (Syndey Roosters), Sam Brunton (Mounties Bundy), Daniel Fepuleai (North Sydney Bears), Jonathon Ford (Toulouse Olympique XIII), Anthony Gelling (Wigan Warriors), Isaac John (Penrith Panthers), Drury Low (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs), Keith Lulia (Bradford Bulls), Lulia Lulia (Shell Harbour), Sam Mataora (Canberra Raiders), Joseph Matapuku (North Sydney Bears), Dylan Napa (Sydney Roosters), Dominique Peyroux (New Zealand Warriors), Jordan Rapana (Canberra Raiders), Tupou Sopoaga (Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks), Zeb Taia (Catalan Dragons), Brad Takairangi (Gold Coast Titans), Adam Tangata (Mounties Bundy), Zane Tetavano (Newcastle Knights)

USA 19-man squad: Kristian Freed (Connecticut Wildcats), Bureta Faraimo (Mackay Cutters), Michael Garvey (Ipswich Jets), Loto Tagaloa (Hawaii Chiefs), Matt Petersen (Cudgen Hornets), Joseph Paulo (Parramatta Eels), Craig Priestly (Southampton Dragons), Junior Paulo (Parramatta Eels), Joel Luani (Wests Tigers), Eddy Pettybourne (Wests Tigers), Clint Newton (Penrith Panthers), Matt Shipway (Newcastle South), Daniel Howard (Wentworthville Magpies), Tui Samoa (Redcliffe Dolphins), Mark Offerdahl (Connecticut Wildcats), Stephen Howard (Tuggeranong Vikings), Les Soloai (Utah Avalanche), David Marando (Belrose), Judah Lavulo (Cabramatta)

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