Cook Islands coach Tony Iro is convinced World Cup record-breaker Valentine Holmes would have played for the Kukis had the tournament gone ahead last year.
But Iro is giving the North Queensland star, who scored six tries – an Aussie record – playing for the green and golds in a 2017 World Cup semi-final, all the space he needs to make a call on his country of election this year.
Holmes wanted by Australia too and the former NFL trialist has admitted he has a difficult choice to make.
“If the World Cup was last year, I think he probably would have played for us,” Iro said.
“But things have changed. He’s had a great season. Australia will obviously … he’s probably the form centre in the competition in my opinion. He’s in demand and that’s good for him – and great for him in terms of the way he’s playing.
“To have a player of Val’s qualities would obviously be great for the group. They’ve got to make those decisions. There’s plenty of footy, especially for him, to come in the next four to seven weeks. He can enjoy that and then see what he wants to do.
“We’ll wait and see. If he decides to come our way, it’s a bonus. If not, we move on.”
Holmes, who played pre-season matches for the New York Jets in 2019, qualifies for the Kukis by virtue of his mother Lucy. With all squads to be named on September 24, Iro said he wasn’t worried about players such as Holmes being picked by more than one nation.
This has happened once to Holmes already – in 2014 he was selected in a senior New Zealand squad and by the Junior Kangaroos within 24 hours.
“I think, to be fair, most players would have had discussions with their coaching teams well before that date so I’d expect most teams to be able to name on September the 24th with a pretty clear idea on who is and who isn’t going to be available for the World Cup, for the teams,” he explained.
“For me it’s not a massive concern and if there are a couple of names on both lists.I’m pretty sure a quick discussion will sort it all out. Otherwise they might not be going at all.”
While Samoa beat Cook Islands 42-12 on June 25, Iro says he has a dozen players to add to that squad.
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“For example, Tepai Moeroa – he’s back in Queensland Cup this week after a long time out with a shoulder injury so he’s gonna get some footy,” said Iro.
“(Brisbane’s) TC Robati wasn’t available for the Pacific Test with a bad hammy.
“(Hull KR’s) Brad Takairangi was our captain when we played in 2019 against the States. He’s rehabbing a bad hammy at the moment but he’s confident he’s going to be right. “
Iro has eschewed a warm-up game in favour of opposed sessions before the tournament opener against Wales at Leigh Sports Village on October 19.
“I’m in discussions with a couple of international teams and also a couple of Championship sides,” the coach said.