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On Saturday Arona will be part of the Cook Islands team to take on the United States in Jacksonville, Florida.
The winner of the match will secure a spot in the World Cup.
“It’s a massive game. Everyone wants to be in the World Cup,” said Arona.
Last month Arona was part of the Canterbury Bulls side which lost to Akarana in the national premiership final. Two weeks later he represented Cook Islands for the first time at the Rugby League World Cup Nines in Sydney. On
November 1, he co-captained the New Zealand Residents to a 28-12 win over the English Community Lions in Auckland.
“It’s been like a blur . . . it’s surreal,” said Arona.
“My goal that I’ve always had is to play for the Cook Islands, I just never thought it would happen this year. Another goal was to get to the final with the Bulls and to make the residents team, so for all of that to happen in the space of five weeks has been nuts.”
The Cook Islands squad for the World Cup qualifying match against the US contains NRL regulars in the form on Parramatta Eels centre Brad Takairangi, Brisbane Broncos centre Alex Glenn and Eels second-rower Mareta Niukore.
Arona – who was born in New Zealand, but still has many family members in the Cook Islands – is already familiar with many in the squad after being a surprise selection for the World Cup Nines last month. He flew to Sydney just three days before the start of the tournament. The side went on to defeat Tonga and Fiji, but missed out on a semi-final spot due to a loss to pool winners Samoa.
“All the write-ups were saying we were dead in that pool and teams should get an easy win off us, but in the nines game you just down know. We ended up playing well and if we beat Samoa we could have got through to the finals and played Australia. That would have been massive.”
Cook Islands – which avoided elimination by defeating South Africa in June – have previously made World Cup appearances in 2000 and 2013.
The winner of Saturday’s match will become the 16th and final team to qualify for the 2021 tournament.