It is fitting that the final of a competition that has succeeded beyond all expectations should be contested tonight between two teams which have, in their different ways, captured the imagination.
The Emerging Nations World Cup final at Bury will see Ireland attract a good deal of blood-loyalty, but the Cook Islands will be the sentimental favourites of many who only have a hazy idea of where on the globe they are.
It will be Irish pipers against Polynesian drums and the sense of theatre, as much as the promise of a fine game, should attract around 5,000 spectators to Gigg Lane.
The Irish have opted for the Oldham scrum-half, Martin Crompton, the Featherstone prop, Leo Casey, and Halifax's Richard Smith as their three permitted professionals. Smith forms a confusing centre partnership with the half-Samoan Ricky Smith.
Others likely to have an important impact are the former Halifax hooker and now Leeds physio, Seamus McCallion, who gives the side momentum from dummy half, and Gavin Gordon, the Bangor Vikings full-back, who, at 17, is the youngest player in either World Cup.
Gordon was threatened with being banned from rugby union by his school if he played in the World Cup, but that threat has now been withdrawn.
The main threat to Ireland comes from the pace and mobility of what has emerged as a most attractive side to watch.
The Cooks have the Illawarra stand-off, Craig Bowen, the Oldham prop, Jason Temu, and Meti Noovao, their loose forward and goal-kicker from the Auckland Warriors, as their three professionals.
The Islanders' main problem is that as many as nine of them are carrying assorted knocks as the legacy of three group matches in five days.
Their opponents tonight will knock them about some more, but the Cooks could still spoil the Irish broth.
COOK ISLANDS: Toa (Ngatangiia-Matavera); Shepherd (Ngatangiia-Matavera), Paitai (Tupapa-Maraerenga), Tuara (Tupapa-Maraerenga), Tariu (Tupapa-Maraerenga); Bowen (Illawarra), Davys (Brisbane); Hunter (Ngatangiia-Matavera), Cuthers (Otahuhu), Temu (Oldham), Henry (Tupapa-Maraerenga), Kermode (Ngatangiia- Matavera), Noovao (Auckland).
IRELAND: Gordon (Bangor Vikings); Comerford (Dublin Blues), Richard Smith (Halifax), Ricky Smith (Bangor Vikings), McEntaggart (Dublin Blues); McElhatton (Dudley Hill), Crompton (Oldham); Smyth (Illingworth), McCallion (unattached), Casey (Featherstone), Grainey (Leigh Miners), Nuttall (Newsome Magpies), Owens (Dudley Hill).
Referee: D Hale (New Zealand).Reuse content