Cooks' opportunity to shine at NZ Sevens
The Cook Islands will run out at the Westpac Stadium on 3-4 February this weekend, in the knowledge that this is their one and only chance to shine on the 2011/12 HSBC Sevens World Series.
The Cook Islands secured their place at this year's Hertz Sevens at the fourth edition of the Oceania Sevens in October last year, a tournament which saw non-core teams qualify for tournaments on the 2011/12 Series.
Tonga will participate in both Wellington this weekend and Hong Kong in March by virtue of making the semi-finals whilst the Cook Islands, who came 5th, return to the New Zealand capital for the 12th time.
"In terms of development we are blooding eight new players on the IRB circuit," said head coach Ramsey Tomokino.
"We had qualifiers in October in Samoa and it has just got tougher for us to qualify. Tonga got the first spot and are able to go to Hong Kong, but we are fortunate to have been able to get one of the two spots here.
"It is great to be here, and we just hope we can do our nation proud and do the tournament justice because it is a great tournament and for us it is also great to be involved in the circuit."
With eight new players in their squad the Cook Islands will certainly gain invaluable experience from playing in front of a packed stadium and against the likes of England for a second year in a row, something Tomokino hopes will help his side as they move closer to Rugby World Cup Sevens qualifying.
"For our young guys, it is hugely important that they stick at it.
"They are enthusiastic, and with the likes of Koiatu Koiatu who has said he won't retire until someone can replace him, if we can stick together and take our strongest side possible to build towards May we can have a good crack at getting to the RWC and even Hong Kong next year.
"I am confident we can knock of Tonga, we have done it before, and we should be able to take care of Papua New Guinea and Niue if we stick to what we know.
"Who wouldn't want to play Sevens? Who wouldn't want to be in Wellington? But if Sevens was easy, everyone would be doing it, and in reality it requires a lot of hark. I have said it before but it is like an extreme sport."
The Cook Islands face a tough task at the Westpac Stadium, lining up against the third and fourth placed sides in the current standings, South Africa and England, as well as next week's hosts USA.
But Tomokino's side are not strangers to upsets, as they demonstrated at the 2008 New Zealand Sevens, beating England 21-17 and coming close last year, suffering a 21-17 defeat to Ben Ryan's side in the pool stages.
"We have a tough pool, there is never any easy one anymore," added Tomokino.
"We came close to England last year and we would like to think we will be competitive again this year. We have been doing our homework, but we are under no illusion that England and South Africa are quality sides, we just have to bring our flair.
"We have given our players license to do their thing, I want us to be competitive, and as you know anything can happen."