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Pride Pettersen-Robati was so surprised at being asked to co-captain the Cook Islands in Saturday’s Pacific Test against Samoa that he was initially unsure whether to tell his family.

“I haven’t told anyone yet. I don’t want to feel cocky or anything, so I think I’ll just let it come out when it comes out,” Pettersen-Robati told just hours after his appointment.

“It might make me feel under more pressure if I go and tell everyone. It’s obviously a pretty important job.”

Cook Islands coach Tony Iro approached Pettersen-Robati and Titans centre Esan Marsters when they arrived in camp on Tuesday to offer them the role.

Yet to make his NRL debut after taking time away from the game in 2015, Pettersen-Robati and Marsters are at different stages of their playing careers, but the captaincy honour has significance for both of them.

“This game is a defining moment in my career,” said 27-year-old Pettersen-Robati, who is off contract at the end of the season.

“There are a lot of quality players in the Samoa team, so I want to play good and put my best foot forward against some of the top talent in the game.”

For Marsters, who has played six Tests for the Kiwis, captaining the Cook Islands will be a career highlight, and he gave an insight into how Iro and his brother Kevin are regarded in the Pacific nation, which has a population of just 20,000.

Esan Marsters will co-captain Cook Islands
Esan Marsters will co-captain Cook Islands ©NRL Photos

“We had a picture at home when I was growing up and it was both Tony and Kevin with my mum and my cousin Steven’s mum, who are twins,” Marsters said.

“I always remember seeing that photo when I was younger and I would always say ‘who are those guys’ and they would tell me ‘that’s Tony and Kevin Iro. They are legends’.”

Esan and Steven, who has had stints with the Dragons and Rabbitohs, consider themselves to be more like as brothers, but the Pacific Test will be the first time they have played together.

“This means a lot to us,” Esan said. “I have got a lot of family back home who really drove into us about being Cook Islander.

“Having a strong Cook Islands background it is always awesome to come into camp because there are boys I have played with before, and you get to experience a new bunch of boys coming in.”

Pettersen-Robati’s father Taura was born in the Cook Islands and moved while still in primary school to Wellington, where most of his family now live.

After playing his junior league for the Upper Hutt Tigers, Pettersen-Robati moved to Melbourne as a 15-year-old before later joining the Knights.

He played NYC for both clubs but quit the game in 2015 and only returned after moving to Brisbane in 2019 - making his first international appearance for Cook Islands that year in a World Cup qualifying match against South Africa.

“It is always an honour to represent your country. It is a privilege and there are a lot of people who would like to be in this position so it is something that I will never take for granted,” he said.

“The World Cup is a big deal so this is a good game to see where we are at.”

The Cook Islands have eligible players in other representative squads, such as Jordan Rapana, Joey Manu, Marata Niukore, Charnze Nicol-Klokstad (Kiwis) and Francis Molo (Samoa).

TC Robati, Tepai Moeroa and Michael Molo are among the other NRL players who could play for Cook Islands at the World Cup, while there are others in the Super League headed by Brad Taikarangi, Dylan Napa, Zane Tetevano, Dom Peyroux and Kenny Edwards.

Brad Taikarangi is among the players likely to join the Cooks Islands at the World Cup
Brad Taikarangi is among the players likely to join the Cooks Islands at the World Cup ©Grant Trouville/NRL Photos

“Being the small islands that we are, compared to the other countries, it is pretty good we can produce so much good talent,” Marsters said.

“A lot of players are playing for New Zealand, or playing Origin, so it is good to get a lot of young guys coming through and they will get a lot of confidence building towards the World Cup.”

Among them is Pettersen-Robati, who was still absorbing the significance of being selected to captain the Cook Islands as he spoke about the role.

“I didn’t expect to be named captain, so I am pretty proud,” he said. “I’ll try to lead by example and inspire others around me.

“Tony just came up to me and said I think I am going to make you and Esan co-captains, are you cool with that. I just said, ‘sweet’. And then he told the team.

“Tony is a part of the Warriors, so I have spoken to him a fair. He and his brother paved the way for us Cook Islands boys, so we follow in their footsteps.

“Hopefully we can do what they have done and make people proud. Now that we are talking about it, I think I might have to tell my family”.

Acknowledgement of Country

National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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