Cooks beat the drum at Post Office Road

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The Independent Online
DAVE HADFIELD

The United States discovered in Featherstone last night that, for an emerging rugby league nation, size is not everything when they lost 64- 6 to the Cook Islands.

It was small wonder, perhaps, that the Cook Islands should have felt at home at Post Office Road, the 16,000 population of the village matching just about perfectly that of the whole of their archipelago.

They brought the flavour and especially the sounds of those islands to Featherstone in the opening match of the Emerging Nations' World Cup: their team, substitutes and officials singing their national anthem in sublime 20-part harmony and the players performing the most complicated war dance of either this or the Senior World Cup competition so far.

Featherstone also provided drummers to beat out the islands' distinctive tattoos every time they scored. It was always likely that the drummers would be kept busy, as the Cooks, geographically obscure as they might be, can claim a health crop of genuine rugby league players with experience in New Zealand and beyond. The drums first beat out their message in the first minute and continued to do so at regular intervals, as players like Ali Davys, Craig Bowen, Denvour Johnson and Methi Noovao showed their pedigree.

The United States tried to counter the Cooks' massed choir with their left-winger Britton Coffman's stirring rendition of "The Star Spangled Banner." It was all a little like being at some large, open-air karaoke festival. What they lacked in technique and complex harmony, they did their utmost to make up for in sheer courage. In the former Marine, Jeff Preston, they had one performer of conspicuous gallantry, and it was fitting that he was their lone try-scorer.

By the end, a crowd considerably bigger than Featherstone's average this season was urging the Americans on for a second but, as they know better than most, some days it is the little guys' turn.

In the other Group One match, also at Featherstone, Scotland scored 20 points without reply in the second half to beat Russia 34-9 while, in Group Two at Rochdale, Ireland beat Moldova 48-26.

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