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 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 to produce a classy performance on the world stage.
A brilliant phase of play by elusive five-eighth Esan Marsters led to Cook Islands' 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 half-time 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 Islands the lead.
And it was 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 to score.
- The Cook Islands had 34 tackle breaks to Wale's 14 in the opening half but still trailed by four at the break.
- Wales completed 31 of 35 sets at 88 per cent while the Kukis completed 34 of 40 sets at 85 per cent.
- Cook Islands winger Steven Marsters scored 10 points for his side before sustaining a knee injury in the 70th minute of the match.
- Wales has not won a World Cup game since 2000 while the win is just Cook Islands' second in the tournament’s history following 28-24 success over the same opposition in 2013.
- The two sides' last World Cup meeting in 2013 saw the Cook Islands defeat Wales 28-24.
- The match marked a family affair for the Cook Islands, with Cronulla Sharks rookie Kayal Iro coached by his uncle Tony Iro.
Play of the Game
With his side trailing 12-8 with 22 minutes to play, 19-year-old Davvy Moale ignited the Kukis late comeback. It was all muscle from the Rabbitohs young gun, who barged through from close range before carrying several defenders over the line to score. Moale now has two tries in two Tests for Cook Islands having bagged a four-pointer in the mid-season international against Samoa at Campbelltown Stadium. Moale finished the night with 111 run metres, four and tackle breaks to go with his try.
Moale won't be stopped
What They Said
“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.” – Cook Islands halfback Johnathon Ford
Iro: ' We had to be patient'
“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.” - Wales coach John Kear
Kear immensely proud
The next assignment for Wales is against Mate Ma'a Tonga, at Totally Wicked Stadium in St Helen's on October 25 (5.30am AEDT) while Cook Islands face Papua New Guinea the following day in Warrington (5.30 am AEDT).