The group of death, group D, threw Papua New Guinea against the Cook Islands in what was effectively a shoot-out for second spot in the table. With the Cook Islands still having to play group leaders Tonga, and PNG with a final game against the weakest side in the group in Wales, the winner of today´s game would be in the best position to secure a quarter final encounter with the hosts England.
PNG were installed as the bookies favourites and were handicapped by sixteen points on the coupon but the Cook Islands were full of confidence after their win over Wales in the first round and came into the match knowing that a win would take them through.
The game had the potential to be a classic.
It was a rough and tough set of opening exchanges, just as advertised, and both sides looked to establish their superiority.
The Cook Islands should have opened the scoring when Anthony Gelling intercepted a Lachlan Lam pass, but he was chased and hauled down short of the line. Following a ball steal Steven Marsters slotted the ball between the uprights to give the Cook Islands a 2-0 lead.
On fourteen Rodrick Tai raced eighty metres for the opening PNG try after tapping the ball to himself on the twenty-metre line following a poor kick into goal by Steven Marsters which went dead in goal. Rhyse Martin missed the conversion from the side line, his first miss since failing to find the target on July 9th for the Leeds Rhinos and missing the opportunity to set a world record of forty-two consecutive kicks.
An awful high tackle from the Cook Islands gifted PNG a third set on the line and on the second tackle Kyle Laybutt ran the angle and slid over for the second try of the game. Rhyse Martin added the conversion for 10-2.
Mackenzie Yei was sin-binned for PNG on twenty-eight minutes for a tackle to the head, Cook Islands with a one-man advantage for most of the remainder of the half and an ideal opportunity to ease themselves back into the game.
The extra man gave an overlap down the left and Paul Ulberg took a Brendan Piakura pass taking full advantage to score in the corner. Steven Marsters added from the touchline for an 8-10 scoreline at the interval.
A minutes after the restart and the Kumuls were in again, Rhyse Martin taking the pass and spinning out of a tackle to ground. Martin added the conversion to re-establish the eight-point lead.
Tai got his second of the game on forty-six as he scrambled over the line after being tapped to the ground and shuffling over the line on his backside. Martin was unable to hit the target, but PNG were starting to edge out of sight.
The game was in the bag on fifty-six, Lachlan Lam taking a Justin Olam pass to run in under the uprights before being mobbed by his teammates. Martin added the conversion for an eighteen-point lead.
On the hour Gelling evaded the attentions of three tacklers to stoop and get the ball on the ground for the second Cook Island try of the night. Marsters was wide with his conversion attempt, the Cook Islands still fourteen adrift.
The Cook Islands became their own worst enemy on sixty-five when an awful tip-tackle saw Reubenn Rennie sent to the sin-bin for ten minutes, and he can probably count himself as fortunate to not see red.
Justin Olam went in on sixty-eight after fast hands from Alex Johnston allowed him to go over in the corner from ten metres out. He needed treatment after being hit in the act of scoring. Martin added the conversion as Olam was helped off the field.
The Cook Islands completed the scoring after a Gelling intercept and break. Two plays later, and giving the ball some air, Kayal Iro slid in for a memorable try. Marsters was unable to add the conversion, the final score being 32-16 to the Kumuls.
Papua New Guinea are now in the best position to make the quarter finals, all they have to do is beat Wales and hope that Tonga secure the win over the Cook Islands. Should both be successful, or both slip up, then it will come down to points difference to determine who will play England in the knockout stage, but for now it´s clear advantage to PNG.
PNG: Johnston, Tai (2T), MacDonald, Olam (T), Ngutlik, Laybutt (T), Lam (T), Albert, Ipape, Namo, Putt, Martin (T, 4G), Alick. Subs: Boas, Russell, Yei (SB on 27), Appo.
Cook Islands: Iro (T), Marsters S (2G), Gelling (T), Rennie R (SB on 66), Ulberg (T), Takairangi, Marsters E, Rennie V, Teroi, Moeroa, Peyroux, Piakura, Tetevano Subs: Makatoa, Moale, Ngatikaura, Noovao-McGreal.
Score Progression: 0-2, 4-2, 8-2, 10-2, (SB), 10-6, 10-8 : HT : 14-8, 16-8, 20-8, 24-8. 26-8, 26-12, (SB), 30-12, 32-12, 32-16 : FT .
Lead Exchanges: Cook Islands – PNG.
Referee: Chris Kendall.
Attendance: 6,273 at the Halliwell-Jones Stadium, Warrington.