By Richard Cowley, Date: 15/8/14

On Wednesday this week Dave Smith the CEO of the NRL launched the NRL’s new Pacific Strategy. There has been ground work taking place in the pacific nations (more some than others) over the last few years. But this announcement by the NRL means that the most powerful rugby league organisation in the world is actually serious about taking that game forward in the Pacific.

So what is the Strategy?

Well according to the NRL website the Pacific Strategy will focus on:

– Game development

– Player welfare

– Commercial and corporate opportunities

– Supporting education, social and community outcomes

– Strengthening the Rugby League bodies in each nation to build the international game

NRL players with links to the Pacific will also be involved in visiting Pacific Nations and driving some of the key strategies listed above.

When the launch took place Dave Smith mentioned that Fiji, PNG, Samoa and Tonga were the key Pacific nations where the NRL wanted to help young people develop their rugby league careers. Once again this is very positive news for these Pacific Nations. This Strategy does have the potential to turn rugby league into the dominant rugby code in the Pacific (If it isn’t already).

Now before we continue further we need to take a step back one week. This is when the Rugby League International Federation released the qualification process for the 2017 Rugby League World Cup. The qualification process has been well received except for the Pacific Leg. In a nutshell from the Pacific, Fiji and Samoa have automatically qualified. Only two more Pacific teams can make it through to the World Cup via the Pacific qualifying leg. So who will most likely be the teams fighting it out for the two places? Papua New Guinea, Tonga and Cook Islands.

So based on Dave Smith’s Pacific Strategy and the 2017 RLWC qualifying leg which Pacific Nation do you think would be feeling a little un-loved at the moment? Yes you guessed it the Cook Islands.

The Cook Islands had their greatest World Cup in 2013. The Cooks defeated Wales and nearly knocked over Tonga and just had an off game against the USA.

So why not have three spots up for grabs in the Pacific and expand the Nations contesting the qualifiers to include the likes of Vanuatu and Niue? Or have the 3rd placed Pacific team play-off for the final spot in the RLWC against the equivalent European team? We do want the best 14 teams in the World Cup don’t we?

ABC Radio Australia last week did an interview with Charles Carlson who is the President of the Cook Islands Rugby League Federation. The main concern for the Cook Islands is that they have worked hard over many years to become full members of the Rugby League International Federation. Some would even argue that they have had real development and rugby league competitions take place domestically for many years now. But the Cooks could lose their place to another nation who has been fast tracked to full membership which does seem rather unfair.

Also there is a real concern that all the hard work the Cook Islands have done to get where they are today could be undone if they miss out on the 2017 RLWC. To listen to what Charles has to say visit click here

If the NRL are serious about an over-all Pacific Strategy they can’t forget about the small guys. Cook Islands deserve to be in the 2017 Rugby League World Cup as much as they deserved a mention during the Pacific Strategy launch. Other nations like Vanuatu, Niue and Solomon Islands who are new to rugby league would benefit greatly if they were also included in some way in the over-all Pacific Strategy. Who knows….maybe they are included and form a smaller part of the over-all Strategy. Let’s hope so as the NRL needs to be all inclusive when it comes to the Pacific.