Samoa v Cook Islands - Men's International
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - JUNE 25: Reubenn Rennie of Cook Islands performs the Haka during the Men's International Test Match between Samoa and the Cook Islands at Campbelltown Sports Stadium on June 25, 2022 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

In the lead-in to the 2026 Rugby League World Cup (RLWC2026), the International Rugby League governing body is introducing a World-Series concept to determine the final berths in the 10-team event.

One team from each of the IRL's four regions will contest for the two positions. The Cook Islands is the only eligible side from the Asia-Pacific region and are therefore automatically catapulted into contention.

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The Americas, European and Middle East-Africa (MEA) regions will all run their own qualifying tournaments.

The successful countries will join Australia, Samoa, New Zealand, England, Lebanon, Tonga, Fiji and Papua New Guinea in fighting it out for RLWC glory.

Fans will be able to see the 'Kukis' in this year's upcoming Pacific Championships with matches against Papua New Guinea on October 15 and Fiji on October 22.

The team will likely include South Sydney Rabbitohs' Davvy Moale, Cronulla Shark Kayal Iro, Parramatta Eels' Makahesi Makatoa and former NRL players Brad Takairangi, Esan and Steven Marsters, Zane Tetevano and Pride Petterson-Robati.

The Cook Islands' 2021 World Cup squad also boasted Tepai Moeroa, Dylan Napa and Brendan Piakura. Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad, Jordan Rapana, Francis Molo, Alex Glenn and Marata Niukore have previously represented the Kukis.

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IRL Chair Troy Grant explained that the restructure will provide greater clarity on a pathway for qualification for nations to realise their ambitions.

"The qualification path is also becoming clearer for RLWC2026, and the development of the Regional Championships and World Series will be broadened, and better understood, after consultation with all of our member nations in the confederations," said Grant.

The International Rugby League mission statement is to 'foster, develop, promulgate, promote, govern and administer the game of Rugby League throughout the world'.

Around half of the current crop of NRL players are of Pasifika heritage, and the Australian Government has committed $7 million to the upcoming Pacific Championships.

Supporters of the Cook Islands, and Rugby League in general will likely feel very excited about the future of the international competition.