By John Davidson, (RLP RLWC Correspondent) Date: 6/11/13
Tonga has ended the Cook Islands’ World Cup run with a tough, tight and engrossing 22-16 win at a packed Leigh Sports Village.
Cooks winger Chris Taripo scored all of his team’s 16 points, racking up three tries and two conversions, but could not stop the Tongan triumph. Fellow winger Jordan Rapana will not want to watch the replay of this game after his costly error in the 68th minute. As he was over the line and about to score a try untouched, the ball inexplicably flew out of his hands and a vital four points was gone.
It didn’t cost the Cooks the match, with the island nation being on the wrong end of a 12-5 penalty count much more influential, but it was a crucial mistake at a time when the game was in the balance.
Tonga started strongly with some barging runs from Fui Fui Moi Moi and some ferocious defence. They drew first blood in the sixth minute when Sika Manu broke the line and found Glen Fisi’ashi back on the inside to touch down.
The Cooks hit back through Taripo’s first score off a great kick from Isaac John, with Taripo converting his own try.
Sika Manu was forced off in the 15th minute with a head cut thanks to a huge hit from Dylan Napa.
The Cook Islands extended their lead three minutes later when Taripo excellently grounding a deft Drury Low grubber. The Cooks were cruising now, offloading at will and causing Tonga problems, until Jason Taumololo barged over brilliantly after a second-man play.
Piggybacking of a series of penalties, Tonga went further ahead just before halftime thanks to a sensational run from human wrecking ball Konrad Hurrell.
Two minutes after the break and the Cooks were back into the match thanks to another Taripo try. The Cooks seem to have Tonga on the ropes here, visibly lifting their intensity and defensive pressure, but a series of penalties and indiscipline repeatedly let Tonga off the hook.
With 19 minutes to go Jorge Taufau crossed in the corner after a lovely cutout pass and the video referee awarded the try due to benefit of the doubt, after a desperate tackle in the corner. It was the luck the Tongans needed, and it was extended seven minutes later thanks to Rapana’s nig blunder.
The Cooks kept battling, getting the ball down with three minutes to go but the video ref pulled it back for a knock on in the lead-up. Brave but beaten, the Cooks made too many simple errors and let a famous victory slip. They face Wales on Sunday knowing that regardless of the result they are going home early.
Tonga meet Italy on Sunday but need the USA to defeat Scotland on Thursday to remain in the hunt for a quarter-final berth.
Tonga 22, Tries: Taumalolo, Fisi’iahi, Hurrell, Taufua, Goals: Langi (3).
Cook Islands 16, Tries Taripo (3), Goals: Taripo (2).