Come from a Land Down Under
As the Rugby League World Cup progresses to the knockout rounds, I'm reflecting on the small role I played in covering the event when the Cook Islands team came to town. Journeys don't come much further than from the South Pacific archipelago to the Tees Valley, at almost 10,000 miles and around 40 hours' journey time. However, during the team's stay I felt more affinity to them than others in the local vicinity.
I immediately warmed to the oceanic islanders when they arrived at the Darlington Arena for an open training session, looking a bit nithered on a brisk autumn morning. Local school children had gathered to watch and weren't disappointed when the tourists performed their version of the haka - the ceremonial Maori war dance/challenge, which is alway so visually and audibly appealing - and then had a kick about.
My second sighting of the team was somewhat unexpected. Midway through a workout at my local gym, I was suddenly surrounded by the green and white shirts of the Cook Islanders. I sheepishly carried out my routine while they took charge of many of the weight machines and apparatus, putting my efforts to shame.
Sadly the team failed to qualify for the latter rounds of the tournament but I will remember with fondness how they endeared the local community, including myself, by going about their business without pretence or arrogance in their roles as international rugby players.