THE Cook Islands have sprung the international upset of the year by defeating Samoa 22-20 in Cairns on Saturday night to book themselves a ticket to Port Moresby for the inaugural SP Brewery Pacific Cup.
The young Cook Islands side shocked their highly-fancied opponents with two tries inside the first 10 minutes and survived repeat sets on their line in the dying seconds to secure a memorable victory.
The full time whistle was met with ecstatic celebrations with the Cook Islands performing a repeat rendition of their war cry in front of the vocal Barlow Park fans.
Cook Islands coach and former Australian Test player David Fairleigh said the upset victory was “a great result for international rugby league.
“It’s a massive, massive day for Cook Islands rugby league,” Fairleigh said.
“There’s a lot of spirit and emotion (in this team) and I had a great feeling at training.
“It was tremendous atmosphere – Cairns have turned on a massive rugby league weekend for everyone here, it’s been enormous.
“No one gave us a hope in hell to get here and there was a lot of things said during the week (about our chances) that really got under the guys’ skin.
“We just did what we had to do, we had a really basic game plan and they executed that really well.”
The match was preceded by a range of ceremonies and performances from local Cook Islands and Samoan community groups.
SP Brewery Pacific Cup tournament director Brian Canavan said it was the perfect build-up to the tournament proper kick-off on Oct 24 at Lloyd Robson Oval.
“The people of Cairns really got behind this match and in return they got an absolutely terrific game of rugby league,” Canavan said.
“The spirit and manner in which it was played and the atmosphere all night was something to remember.
“We are all set and ready now for the SP Brewery Pacific Cup and all the teams are excited at the prospect of winning a spot in next year’s Four Nations.
“But more than anything I think all the players are just really proud to be representing their nations, which is great to see.”
The win sees Cook Islands join Fiji, Tonga and Papua New Guinea in the tournament proper which kicks off at Lloyd Robson Oval in PNG on October 24.
Teams arrive in Port Moresby on Monday, October 19, in readiness for a two-week stay in which they will participate in various community activities.
The SP Brewery Pacific Cup final will be played on Sunday, November 1, to determine which Pacific nation will join Australia, New Zealand and England in the 2010 Four Nations tournament.