2021 Rugby League World Cup

The Cook Islands have bagged their first victory of the World Cup after holding off a spirited Wales side 18-12 at Leigh.

In a thrilling match, the Dragons almost pulled off a shock win over their Polynesian opponents.

The Welsh had a chance to win the game in the final set of the match, but couldn’t find the right pass and the Kukis held on to claim a close victory.

John Kear’s side started strongly at the Leigh Sports Village, taking the lead after just 12 minutes.

A Josh Ralph grubber was picked up by Rhodri Lloyd for the opening try.

Matty Fozard added the extras to make it 6-0.

Soon after, Tepai Moeroa got over the line to hit back, but the video referee decided he had lost control and ruled no try.

In the 21st minute, the Cook Islands drew level when captain Esan Marsters made a break through the middle and found Anthony Gelling in support to score.

Steven Marsters nailed the conversion to tie it up.

But the Welsh were undaunted and six minutes later Ollie Olds threw a huge dummy and forced his way over to score.

Fozard added the extras again to put Wales deservedly 12-6 ahead.

The Dragons were brave in defence and put everything into the match.

With three minutes left in the half Aaron Teroi went close to tieing it up but grounded the ball inches short of the try-line.

Right on half-time, the lead was cut to 12-8 when Wales were penalised for offside.

In the second half the Kukis started with renewed intent and energy and took the lead when Davvy Moale barged past five defenders to score a brilliant solo try.

Marsters’ conversion edged them 14-12 ahead.

It was a lead that they would not yield as five minutes later the centre claimed an excellent four-pointer, leaping high to grab Brad Takairangi’s kick and touch down acrobatically in the corner. Marsters slipped and missed the conversion for his own try.

As the clock wore down Teroi dived over for a try, but it was chalked off for an incorrect play the ball in the tackle before.

Wales desperately tried to find a response, and in the 72nd minute, the Cook Islands lost Steven Marsters with a bad lower leg injury.

Then in the final seconds, the Welsh mounted one last attack, but couldn’t conjure a tieing score and the relieved Kukis finished winners.

John is a freelance journalist who has been writing about rugby league for the past decade. He covered the 2013 and 2017 World Cups, has appeared on TV and radio, and been published in The I-Paper, The Guardian, The Sun, The Mirror, League Express, Inside Sport magazine and Big League. He writes regularly for Forty-20 magazine, League Weekly and co-hosts the podcasts By the Balls and Six To Go.