Cook Islands coach Tony Iro had mixed emotions after they bowed out of their third World Cup with a heavy defeat against Tonga.
It’s remarkable in itself that the country participates on the world stage, and they bid farewell to some key senior players.
The Kukis had started the tournament in the perfect manner, winning a hard-fought tie with Wales 18-12 at Leigh Sports Village.
But a 32-16 defeat to Papua New Guinea left them with the unlikely task of upsetting the fancied Tongans to progress.
It couldn’t have gone much worse for them, as Tonga ran in 16 tries in a 92-10 thrashing.
Iro said: “I didn’t see that performance coming. I thought we’d competed well in the last two matches. There was a short turnaround but I certainly didn’t expect that. We just gave them too much time and too much space.
“I was just disappointed in our effort.”
It means Cook Islands bow out with just the solitary win against Wales, the same as they managed in 2013.
In that tournament nine years ago, they were also beaten 32-20 by the USA and 22-16 to Tonga.
There were only five survivors from the 2013 World Cup squad and one of those, Anthony Gelling, played his last game for the Cook Islands against Papua New Guinea.
Gelling, 32, was the most-capped player in the squad and scored a try against the Kumuls before announcing his retirement.
Another experienced campaigner departing is retiring Wakefield prop Tinirau Arona.
The 33-year-old ended his final career game with a nice moment, being presented a try on a plate by Hull KR’s Brad Takairangi, and then subsequently adding the conversion from under the posts.
Takairangi, Johnathon Ford and Leeds’ Zane Tetevano are the other three who’ve now played in two World Cups for the Kukis.
Iro added: “We’ve got some positives. We’ve got some young kids who we’ve put in the jersey for the first time and we’ve said farewell to a couple of the senior boys too.
“We’ve got some good kids coming through the Australian system in the New South Wales Cup and Queensland Cup pathways, and there’s some good kids in the NRL systems as well. There’s a handful of boys up here in Super League.
“We know we don’t have the depth of other nations but we’ve got enough coming through that we can continue to improve and we’ve just got to get better.”
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