Sporting stars have taken a look around one of the Tees Valley’s landmark museums and exchanged gifts in the latest engagement event taking place to mark Rugby League World Cup 2021.
The Cook Islands Rugby League squad visited The Captain Cook Birthplace Museum, in Marton, on Thursday (27 October) ahead of their crunch clash against Tonga at the Riverside Stadium on Sunday.
The team visit was presented with gifts – including a quilt in welcome presentation with schoolchildren from Marton Manor Primary School. A shirt was exchanged in return and the side took part in a cake-cutting ceremony for Captain Cook’s 294th birthday.
Thousands are set to see the Kukis take on Tonga at the Riverside. The Tees Valley Combined Authority, Middlesbrough Football Club, Darlington Mowden Park RFC, and Darlington and Middlesbrough Councils helped put the bid together for hosting the Rugby League World Cup game.
Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen said: “Captain Cook was a trailblazing navigator and a Teessider known around the world. It’s been a pleasure to host the Cook Islands squad for this global event and acknowledge the unique tie we have to their Pacific nation.
“Sunday’s fixture is an exciting prospect. Having an international event on our doorstep just shows the scale of our ambitions in Teesside, Darlington, and Hartlepool. I’m looking forward to some quality rugby league.”
At the very centre of Polynesia, the Cook Islands stretch out in a scattering over two million square kilometres. Polynesians arrived in Rarotonga – the most populous of the Cook Islands – in around 800 AD.
Marton-born Captain Cook visited in 1773 and mapped much of the islands in the following years. It’s thought a Russian Admiral named them the Cook Islands in 1823 in honour of the famous captain.
The Captain Cook Birthplace Museum opened in 1978 on the 250th anniversary of Cook’s birth. It’s housed in a purpose-built building close to the granite urn marking the site of Cook’s birthplace cottage in Stewart Park, Marton, Middlesbrough.
Rob Nichols and Martin Peagam, from the Captain Cook Trust, led short walking tours in the historic village of Marton in the morning before welcoming the team around the museum.
Mr Peagam said: “We are sending postcards from the children of local schools to open up pen-pal relationships with the Cook Islands. It’s also part of promoting tourism in the Tees Valley.
“Cook is known throughout the world – we had a conference here last week and there were people here from Australia, America, New Zealand, Germany, and The Netherlands. We don’t understand how big he is in the rest of the world.
“He’s our local boy and we should celebrate him more.”
Meanwhile, tickets are still available for Sunday’s crunch game. The Cook Islands, who have been based at Rockliffe Hall, need a big win against Tonga to progress to the quarter finals.
Tony Iro, Cook Islands Head Coach, said: “The whole trip has seen people be very welcoming and today has been no different.
“It’s been a really tough group – all games have been physical encounters, and there hasn’t been much between the four sides. There’s a lot to play for on Sunday.”