The triple header of Pacific Tests opened up with the PNG Kumuls taking on the newcomers to the Pacific Test night Cook Islands, and the more experienced Kumuls got their second Pacific Test win in two years with a hard fought 32-22 triumph.
They were made to work hard for it, as the game was locked at 12-12 at half time, after the Cook Islands came back from a 12-0 deficit, and were the team in the ascendancy heading into the break.
After the break PNG came out with a little more fire and got a little more ball and territory and made it count, getting out to 30-16 before a late try to the Cook Islands reduced the gap.
Stargroth was the star for the Kumuls with two tries and was tremendous throughout, as was Ase Boas and lively backup hooker Tommy Butterfield. Former Penrith Panther Geoff Daniela scored a double for the Cook Islands.
Onto the four points of interest from the big Pacific Nations clash.
Is there anything better than the pre game rituals of the Pacific Tests
One thing the Pacific Tests bring in general is something different to the week-in week-out of the NRL. Nothing brings that to the fore than the pre game rituals of the sides.
The Cook Islands certainly made a big first impression with their war cry, which looked at least a match for the other Pacific Nations on show on Saturday night, and even as good as the world famous haka of the All Blacks.
It would probably lose its appeal if we saw it every week ion the NRL, but it is a nice change from the norm of the NRL. The ones seen in the other games were great too.
PNG saw no need for anything too elaborate, and if anyone has seen the Hunters warm up before an Intrust Super Cup game, you’ll know there’s plenty of hype before the game and that their passion will be felt in the opening exchanges with their ferocious tackling.
Either the Rugby League World Rankings are a little out or we are in for some World Cup this year.
Heading into Saturday’s Test Match the PNG side were ranked 15th, behind Ireland (8th), Serbia (11th), and Italy (13th). Even further away were the Cook Islands in 25th, even lower than rugby league nations of Spain (19th), Ukraine (22nd), and Czech Republic (24th).
With rankings in any sport there is always some debate, and calculations that favour one team or region over another, but from what was on display on Saturday it is hard to figure there are 14 better teams in rugby league than the Kumuls, and the Cook Islands aren’t really 10 nations behind them either.
The match quality was actually quite high for teams ranked so low, and errors were very few in the first half while the Cook Islands had the upper hand. There weren’t too many penalties either in the first 40 minutes. Nothing showed the commitment of these tow sides than the play around the coming together of Richard Pandia and Alex Glenn in a coming together just before the break.
Whilst the quality did drop off in the second half as the less full time professional players were more affected by the pace and intensity of the game, it is hard to picture there are that many better teams in front of both of these outfits. If the rankings are true and all the nations ahead of these two sides is accurate, then strap yourself in for a very exciting rugby league World Cup.
Just a shame that the Cook Islands can’t build on the game, as they weren’t even able to qualify for the World Cup, going down to Lebanon in a playoff which was their only chance to qualify.
Cook Islands were unable to take advantage of their chances whilst PNG were clinical.
Despite trailing 12-0 during the first half, the Cook Islands were a little unlucky not be leading at half time. As it was they were all square at 12-12 after a try in the 36th minute to Uiti Baker running off a fine pass that sucked in many a PNG defender. That was after they had scored ten minutes earlier with Geoff Daniela scoring the first of his two.
The Cook Islands should have been much further ahead, and at least the first try scorers of the game after seven minutes when the line was crossed but it was called back correctly for offside. Minutes later they could have had another try as the Cook Islands Jono Ford brilliantly caught a cross field kick, only to drop it on the way down to score the try.
In the mean time between that first and second no try for the Cook Islands, PNG scored their first try through Adex Wera, thanks to a sensational offload from Melbourne contracted Justin Olam. It continued the scoring streak of the PNG centre who came into the game on the back of scoring four tries for the Hunters in their last game before this weekend. On the back of a penalty 6 minutes later, PNG hooker Wartovo Puara crashed over near the posts on a rare trip into their attacking 20m zone after some big running got them not far from the line.
As the errors crept in from half time, PNG were the side in the ascendancy and were far more clinical with their chances. They eventually scored five tries overall, the first in the 44th minute after the Kumuls punished Cook Islands for an error. A second to the fullback Stargorth Amean in the 57th minute got them to comfortable lead, and that became even more so when Nixon Put scored on debut for the Kumuls after great lead up work from Easts Tigers’ Tommy Butterfield.
Stargroth Amean took his chances while they were offered.
Fullback Stargorth Amean grabbed the best player on ground award, after scoring two tries in the Kumuls win, but was dangerous and excellent throughout.
A play that will go unnoticed in the scoring rundown and write ups was the excellent cover tackle the fullback performed on a runaway Cook Islands player in the first half. Mainly because the Cook Islands scored one play later.
Amean was lively throughout the game from the back, and his two tries in the second half were a great reward for his efforts.
He was probably lucky to be playing fullback, as regular skipper David Mead was unavailable through injury, and the other NRL player Nene McDonald could have also been an option if he was available for selection. Amean even had to compete against fellow PNG Hunter Bland Abavu.
Whilst he may not have been first choice at fullback if everyone was fit and available, he certainly has done his chances of being included in the end of year World Cup squad no harm at all.
PNG KUMULS 32
Tries: Adex Wera (13m), Wartovo Puara (19m), Stargroth Amean (44m), Stargroth Amean (57m), Nixon Put (62m)
Goals: Ase Boas 5/5 Conv, 1/1 Pen
COOK ISLANDS 22
Tries: Geoff Daniela (26m), Uiti Baker (36m), Geoff Daniela (50m), Esan Marsters (79m)
Goals: Isaac John 3/4 Conv