Chan's Cook Islands mission
Preparing for his first game in charge of the Cook Islands Test team ahead of their 2017 Rugby League World Cup qualifier against Tonga on Saturday night, coach Alex Chan is ready to usher in generation next for the Kukis.
Compared to Tonga's squad – where all but halfback Daniel Foster has played first grade – Chan has to make do with the very limited experience his squad possesses to chance their arm for qualification.
With their leadership group consisting of captain Jono Ford, Raider Jordan Rapana and Knight Sam Mataora, the only other players with first grade experience within the squad are Drury Low, Bronco Francis Molo and Wigan's Anthony Gelling.
Something both Mataora and Low were able to point out to NRL.com though was that due to their inexperience, the host of young stars the team has within its ranks are yet to break out of their shells, a fact Chan relays as a huge part of his mission in keeping the Kukis on track.
"I think they're in awe. It's their first big opportunity to stand up in an international arena representing Cook Islands rugby league," Chan told NRL.com.
"The nerves have been around especially being with seasoned campaigners like Jono, Sam, Drury and Jordan, blokes who have been to World Cups and played international football before.
"They're all sitting there thinking 'oh wow I have to step up' but they're doing the right things our older boys, they're really bringing the rookies closer to the group and making them feel accepted, welcomed and attempting to build up their confidence.
"That's where we're at as an international team. Like all teams you need to go through a transitional period where you move forward with the future and bringing the younger blokes in.
"But unfortunately we have been forced to grab a lot of guys we weren't quite ready to bring into this arena just yet. In saying that, we'll definitely be far better for it down the track."
While Tonga are an undeniable road block between the Cook Islands playing in their third World Cup in 2017, Chan doesn't plan on dwelling on the challenges ahead, and hopes to even shock a few with his unexperienced squad.
"I don't really need to emphasise too much on what they need to do, they're footballers. They do it, they play the game. All we can do is just hopefully nurture them, bring them new ideas and different approaches to things," Chan said.
"Definitely experience-wise we're outnumbered but in saying that we have a young crew here that haven't been seen or heard of and you always have to worry about the unknown."
While he isn't of Cook Island descent himself, the former Eels and Storm prop – who also doubles his time as Wentworthville's Sydney Shield coach – has been buoyed by the reception he's received since taking the job.
"I love it. With my Maori background, I grew up with a lot of Cook Islanders in New Zealand. There are a lot of similarities with our people, they're very accepting and I still feel the same love as if they're my own," Chan said.
"It's great to be in this environment especially with such a young team. The confidence is just starting to come through and hopefully it'll be right come Saturday night.
"It's an opportunity that just pops up in life and something I didn't really think of before but since it's been brought to my attention I thought what a great opportunity for me coaching a nation I have a great attachment to."
The World Cup qualifier between Tonga and the Cook Islands will be live streamed on NRL.com from 7.30pm on Saturday night AEDT.