The Cook Islands overcame an early scare from a valiant Wales outfit to come away with an 18-12 victory at Leigh Sports Village Stadium.
After several missed opportunities early in the match, the Kukis trailed by four points at half-time, but South Sydney young gun Davvy Moale stepped up on his Test debut to ignite the Cook Islands’ second half charge.
For a side who haven’t won a World Cup match in 22 years and featured no players from the NRL, Wales stood tall in their defeat, producing a classy performance on the world stage.
A brilliant phase of play by elusive five-eighth Esan Marsters led to Cook Island’s first try in the 21st minute, the former Gold Coast Titan bamboozling the defence before finding Anthony Gelling in support.
Come the 26th minute and it was Wales taking the lead again when five-eighth Ollie Olds finished off some great lead-up work by Ralph to crash over the line from close range.
An offside penalty against Wales on the stroke of halftime gave the Kukis an opportunity to reduce the deficit and Steven Marsters slotted the ball to make it 12-8 at the break.
After a closely contested start to the second half, it was going to take a piece of individual brilliance to hand Cook Island the lead.
And it was Rabbitohs young gun Davvy Moale who delivered for the Kukis, barging through from close range before carrying several defenders over the line to score.
Wales lack of big-game experience began to show with the Kukis going back-to-back in three minutes when interchange forward Brad Takairangi produced a deft kick to the sideline and Steven Marsters outjumped Rhys Williams and scored on the turn.
“I’m a bit lost for words. We weren’t good enough but we got the win so we’re happy with that. Obviously, I played over here for a bit of time and I know a few of the Wales boys and we did a bit of homework on them. We knew they were good and they’d come out hard. They’ve got strong backs who carry strong, so credit to them they got through us and it took us a bit of time to combat them. I think we just showed a bit of grit there in the end.” said Cook Islands halfback Johnathon Ford.
“There’s a lot of emotion involved. We were in there right at the end. We probably had half a chance at the very end but we just didn’t manage to take it. We didn’t control our offloads well enough in the second half and ultimately that’s what hurt us. But I’m immensely proud of them and I thought the effort was absolutely superb,.” said- Wales coach John Kear
The next assignment for Wales is against Mate Ma’a Tonga, at Totally Wicked Stadium in St Helen’s on 25 October while Cook Islands face Papua New Guinea the following day in Warrington.