A saddened but equally proud Cook Islands coach Alex Chan has expressed his disappointment in the eligibility laws attached to international rugby league in the aftermath of his team's 28-8 loss to Tonga.
With the chance to qualify for the 2017 Rugby League World Cup now shot, Chan's young squad will now have to wait until 2021 to get another potential crack at the big time.
With players such as Dylan Napa and Valentine Holmes among others unable to run out for the Kukis after nominating to represent Australia – Chan has called for the RLIF to reconsider their eligibility laws to help benefit the game's minnows.
He uses Parramatta Eels young gun Tepai Moeroa to further his example.
"The kid [Moeroa] – I really felt for him because he desperately wanted to represent his people. He is such a proud Cook Islander person and his family were so supportive of the whole concept," Chan said.
"But just because of ineligibility we couldn't take the chance due to the possibility of him not being able to play any other rep footy until after the World Cup."
"That's really hamstrung all our second-tier countries. There is an array of players [we could've used]. That team we played out there we could've filled another 17 if we wanted to.
"The profile of this game has really done us justice I think though. Guys are really starting to say I want to play for my people and want to run out on to the field like the boys who did against Tonga."
The proof is in the pudding once seeing Tonga's squad – where they had a whopping 16 players who have or are currently playing top grade rugby league.
Comparatively the Kukis had six players with the same experience – the same number of years they'll have to wait to contest rugby league's biggest stage again.
"We have a big uphill battle now to reclaim our spot back in the World Cup. Six years is a long time to mull over things but in saying that we have a young crop of players here and with the profile we have gained and the exposure we have given these boys, it'll make a lot more put their hand up in the future," Chan said.
"We'll go back, lick our wounds obviously and reassess the situation and now look forward to where we go from here, where we need to go to and hopefully we can scratch up as many games as we can between now and the next World Cup.
"I'm just hoping people are accommodating and we can get some top quality football going."
Considering the experience of his squad Chan was still proud of his team's efforts – with the squad mostly made up of players from Holden Cup, NSW Cup and lower-tier Sydney competitions.
While their 20-point loss may seem major, the score certainly didn't reflect the game that was – with Tonga able to run away with the chocolates in the final 10 minutes of proceedings.
"We didn't leave anything in the tank. They gave everything and that's all we ever wanted from them," Chan said.
"It's just unlucky we didn't get the result we wanted. A good example of words, it is a stride forward.
"We've really attempted to do the impossible going up against a well-experienced Tongan team, with such youth and such inexperience. I'm proud though that the boys showed how proud they are to wear that jersey."