A late Sunia Turuva try has led Fiji Bati to a thrilling 22-18 victory over the Cook Islands in their Pacific Championships clash in Port Moresby on Sunday.
Down 18-16 with six minutes to play, the 2023 Dally M Rookie of the Year did it all himself, darting and weaving his way through Cook Island defenders to keep his side's Pacic Championships finals hopes alive.
An upset was looming at Santos National Football Stadium with Esan Marsters dominating in attack for the Cook Islands but the star-studded Fiji team proved too strong in the end with NRL players Maika Sivo, Jahream Bula, Waqa Blake and Turuva all crossing for the new-look Bati side.
The Cook Islands had all the momentum in the opening stages of the match and after misfiring several early opportunities, Marsters fooled Fiji defenders with a right foot step before powering over under the sticks.
Esan Marsters Try
Just five minutes later the Bati kicked into gear with Blake combining with Eels teammate and Papua New Guinea's fan favourite Sivo who scored in the left corner to make it 6-4.
With Bati backrower Kitione Kautogasent to the sin bin (high contact) in the 32nd minute, the Cook Islands looked to capitalise on the advantage but NRL rookies Turuva and Bula produced some inspirational defence to deny Justin Estall-Makirere a chance to extend the visitors' lead before half time.
After Fiji had an early opportunity denied by obstruction in the opening minutes of the second half, Marsters' right foot haunted the Bati again with the former NRL player powering his way to the line before delivering a superb offload for fullback Esom Ioka to score under the posts. Marsters' conversion made it 12-4.
Jahream Bula Try
But with errors creeping into the Cook Islands game, the Fiji Bati found some much-needed spark through debutant Bula who pushed up inside in attack before breaking the line to score his first international try. Wakeham's conversion made it 12-10.
Come the 68th minute and Fiji hit the lead for the first time of the match in unlikely fashion, with Blake catching the Cook Islands defence napping, scooping up a loose ball which ricocheted off Bula's head.
But the Cook Islands refused to lie down and stole back the lead with Marsters putting a powering Isaiah Cooper-Tetevano over from close range. Marsters converted to make it 18-16.
With less than six minutes to play it was winger Sunia Turuva who stood up when it counted, doing it all himself to muscle his way over the line and that was enough for the Bati to secure the 22-18 victory in Port Moresby.
Match: Fiji Bati v Cook Islands Aitu
Week 2 -
Cook Islands Aitu
Venue: Santos National Football Stadium, Port Moresby
- After completing at just 58 per cent in their loss to PNG last week, the Cook Islands produced a clinical first half completing at 72 per cent with just four errors to lead at the break 6-4.
- Fiji winger Mikaele Ravalawa was placed on report in the fourth minute of the match for a high tackle on Cook Islands centre Kayal Iro.
- Bati backrower Kitione Kautoga was sent to the sin bin in the 32nd minute for a high shot which saw Cook Islands forward Rhys Dakin sent for a head injury assessment and not return.
- Veteran forward Tui Kamikamica was immense for Fiji in defence, laying 43 tackles in his 70-minute performance.
- Halfback Esan Marsters starred for the Cook Islands, scoring the opening try and setting up another two wile also running 144 metres with the ball.
- Wests Tigers rookie Jahream Bula produced an impressive Test debut with a try, two tackle breaks and 253 metres.
- The Fiji Bati unveiled 10 Test debutants on Sunday; Jahream Bula, Kurt Donoghoe, Kitione Kautoga, Sirilo Lovokuro, Noah Nailagoliva, Caleb Navale, Apisalome Saukuru, Peni Tagituimua, Watisoni Waqanisaravi and Gordon Whippy.
- The two sides last meeting was in 2009 in Port Moresby, the only player from that match returning to Port Moresby for the Pacific Championships is Cook Islands forward Zane Tetevano.
Cook Islands Pe'e
Play of the Game
Premiership-winning winger Sunia Turuva was a rising star in last year's World Cup and is now a Pacific Championship match winner, showing his strength and speed producing a superb solo try in the 54th minute of the match.
Sunia Turuva Try
What They Said
"I couldn't be more proud of the boys, the turnaround from last week and the amount of effort and detail they put into training this week. To then come and out and be the best team on the paddock for the majority of the game...but obviously we're disappointed with how it ended, we had the upper hand for majority of the game but in the second half things started to turn. I'm just really proud of my group and our future is in safe hands with the group that's in the shed snow." - Cook Islands coach Karmichael Hunt
"For me it's a great win to come here as a first-time coach in Papua New Guinea, this day I will never forget. To see these young blokes play the way they did... but for us as Fijians we need to try and bring the energy next week. I think we need to focus on the ruck for next week. If we can control the ruck that's the most important thing. We've got a young squad and this game will help us a lot." - Fiji coach Wise Kativerata.
Fiji will return to Santos National Football Stadium to meet with the Papua New Guinea Kumuls and fight it out for a place in the Pacific Bowl Final in November while the Cook Islands' Pacific Championships campaign comes to an end after going out in straight-sets.