Rugby World Cup: Forget about expensive, unreliable streaming, come to the Cook Islands where the rugby is free and easy
OPINION: I paid $5 to watch the big game last weekend.
Me and my three boys plonked ourselves down to watch an absolute thriller, ending with the result we wanted – victory for the team in black.
That was the Tupapa Panthers in their Senior A Rarotonga club rugby final triumph over the Avatiu Eels.
And, for my five bucks, I got to park the car a few metres back from the sideline; my eldest Monty climbed a coconut tree in the corner of the ground, for the best view in the house.
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The other boys played about with their skateboards on the asphalt ramps at the bottom of the grandstand. There's not much asphalt on the Pacific paradise that is Rarotonga.
We shared a big bag of hot chips and I bought a lukewarm Raro Lager in a plastic cup for just $3.
It felt like everything that community rugby should be, and everything it was when I was growing up in Petone, Wellington, and used to occasionally go along to The Rec to watch the Petone seniors' home games.
On Sunday, with thousands of other people in Cook Islands, I'll be watching another rugby game. This one won't even cost $5. It's free.
We'll have a few other families round at our place on Sunday night, for dinner and to watch a different rugby competition on live TV.
Some couples we know arrived from New Zealand last weekend. Another family, close friends of ours, flew in this week to stay with us. We'll have a few more people round to ours for the All Blacks match...
They say they're here because it's the New Zealand school holidays. That they're here for the weather, the beaches, the swimming, the culture. So they say. I think I know better.
There's a cultural event happening now that – a far as these visitors are concerned – is bigger than Constitution Day, even bigger than Te Maeva Nui dance festival.
Yes, it's the Rugby World Cup.
And if you can't be sitting on the sidelines in Japan, the next best place to see it is right here in Cook Islands.
That's because in Britain you have to put up with ads interrupting your games unless you're willing to pay through the nose for ITV Hub; in the US you must buy an NBC cable subscription.
In Australia, sports-lovers must pay from $27 a month to see the games on the lo-res Kayo streaming service, to $73 a month for Foxtel IQ.
In New Zealand, rugby fans have to take out a Spark streaming TV subscription if they want to see every game live – and for those Kiwis who've left it till now, that's going to cost them $90.
In the Cooks? Every game is free-to-air and live, the host broadcaster's commentators are the outstanding Melodie Robinson and the robustly-opinionated Andrew Mehrtens (the host broadcaster's English language pundits), you'll be cheering shoulder to shoulder with other ABs fans – and did I mention the climate?
Then there's this: if Kiwis play their cards right they can get a flight from Auckland to Raro for as little as little as $148 plus airline fees. (Do what we did and don't book return flights!)
You'd pay that much in Auckland to taxi to and from the pub, to strain to see a corner of the big screen while the big hairy bloke in front of you spills his beer over your shoes.
On Sunday evening the All Blacks play Namibia. And I suspect Cook Islands Television's free-to-air coverage means a far higher proportion of people will be watching the game here than in New Zealand.
That coverage is thanks to all those local businesses who contributed $49,500 to help the TV station pay almost all of its estimated $50,000 bill.
Can you imagine free-to-air coverage being paid for that way in the New Zealand – an over-sized national whip-around?
The sponsors range from big companies like the phone company and Cook Islands Trading Corporation, to small businesses like Hori Signs. One or two-person companies whose logos are flashed up on the screen at half-time in each game, with the proud boast that they are sponsoring the Rugby World Cup 2019.
At the tiny TV station, a goat and chickens graze around the rusty satellite dish in the backyard. Staff are working late into the night to beam every single game out around our vast archipelago of 15 sun-drenched islands dotted across 2 million sq km of ocean.
"We don't make any money from this, we never have," the TV network's chief executive Jeane Matenga tells me.
Cook Islands News conducted a wholly unscientific poll of our two biggest islands, Rarotonga and Aitutaki, with the assistance of the community Facebook pages. With more than 300 responses, 72 per cent of people said they'd be backing the All Blacks.
Eleven per cent are backing Fiji, 3.6 per cent each are backing Australia and Japan. (That last statistic is forgivable: It should be noted that 14 of the players in the Japan squad are Polynesian!)
All Blacks assistant coach Ian Foster says the All Blacks hold their last pool opponents like Namibia in high regard. "It's a matter of respecting who you play and applying a game that you think is still good enough to play well against them."
That may all be true – but here in the Cooks, they don't inspire much respect. They certainly didn't register in our poll of teams that Cook Islanders are supporting.
Now that the club finals are over, and the Panthers have sent the Eels packing, the nation's attention has turned to one competition and, in particular, one team.
On Sunday evening, the best place to support the All Blacks will be right here in the Cooks.
* Jonathan Milne is editor of the Cook Island News
Sunday Star Times