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Cook Islands Welcomed To Tees Valley As Starting Gun Fired On Rugby League World Cup

The final countdown to a global rugby league showpiece has begun with the spectacular arrival of the Cook Islands men’s squad.

The team arrived at their Rockliffe Hall base this afternoon (11 October) ahead of their clash with Tonga at the Riverside Stadium on October 30. Their arrival is the first in a string of events across the Tees Valley linked to the Rugby League World Cup 2021.

Squad representatives were greeted by Yarm School Brass Band, a flag parade and children from Junction Farm Primary School, Eaglescliffe. Youngsters from Yarm Wolves ARLFC also gave the team a warm welcome.

Representatives from the bid partners – Tees Valley Combined Authority, Middlesbrough Football Club, Mowden Park and Darlington and Middlesbrough Councils – were also on hand to welcome the team. Cook Islands squad members will be based at Darlington’s Rockliffe for three weeks – and will also be visiting schools and hosting a half term event in the run up to their Teesside fixture.

A nation 18,000 people strong, the Cook Islands have a particular link to Teesside. Marton-born navigator Captain James Cook arrived in 1773 and again in 1777 – with the islands taking his name after his death.

Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen said: “We’ve been looking forward to giving the Cook Islands a warm welcome for months now and, like sports fans across the region, I can’t wait for their clash against Tonga at Riverside Stadium.

“It’s not just about the match – they will also be on hand to inspire and encourage a new generation of sports fans in what is already a fast-growing game in the region, ensuring Rugby League has a legacy here long after the tournament is over.

“This will attract thousands of people from right across the north – boosting our businesses and offering an exciting contest right on the doorstep of people from Teesside, Darlington and Hartlepool.”

The tournament was scheduled to take place in 2021 but coronavirus restrictions saw it postponed until this year. The Cook Islands will use Darlington’s Mowden Park as their official training base.

Thousands of tickets have been sold so far for the Kukis’ fixture against Tonga.

Councillor Stephen Hill, Middlesbrough Council’s Executive member for Culture & Communities, said: “It’s amazing to be able to welcome the Cook Islands squad to Teesside for this long-awaited fixture, and both teams are assured the warmest of welcomes.

“It’s a mouth-watering prospect for rugby league fans, and the Riverside really will be rocking on October 30.”