South Sydney Rabbitohs under 20s playmaker, Wallace Tangiiti, has shone for the Cook Islands, despite his side going down 28 points to eight to Tonga in tonight’s (Saturday’s) 2017 World Cup Qualifying match at Campbelltown Stadium in front of 4,813 supporters.
The much more experienced Tongan side led 12-8 at the half time break, and took the game away from the Cook Islanders in the final 20 minutes of the match.
Passionate, traditional hakas from both nations set the tone for the game, with neither team taking a backward step throughout the 80 minutes.
Tangiiti, playing halfback for the Cook Islands, played a role in the opening try of the night, with good pass selection from both him and fullback Jordan Rapana setting up a try for right winger Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad in the corner, giving the Cook Islands a four-nil lead after just four minutes.
The Tongans struck back eight minutes later when Jorge Taufua made the most of numbers to the left to score in the corner. Solomone Kata converted to give Tonga a two-point advantage.
The Cook Islands would wrest back the lead when right centre Anthony Gelling scored in the 23rd minute of play. Tangiiti held the ball up nicely, attracting the defence and creating the space and numbers for his side to score, taking the score line to eight-six in favour of the Cook Islanders.
The Tongans went back out in front in the 34th minute when Mahe Fonua scored from a Cook Islands error. Kata converted to take the score to 12-8 in favour of Tonga. It stayed this way through to half time.
Tonga clearly had a stronger line up of individuals with all but one of their 17 having NRL experience, but the young Cook Islanders, made up mainly of NSW Cup and Holden Cup under 20s players, were performing very well as a team. Tangiiti was combining well with experienced players Rapana and Gelling and his defence was solid as a rock.
Both teams threw everything they had at each other in the second half, with the first 20 minutes of the second stanza a veritable arm wrestle.
It wasn’t until the 62nd minute that Tonga would break through for their third try, with Kata scoring out on the right wing. Kata was playing fullback but was suffering from cramps and had moved to the wing for respite, but he found the ball in his hands for his first try.
Six minutes later and it would be Kata again who would score after putting in an ordinary bomb that somehow found space, and a horror bounce for Nicoll-Klokstad saw Kata come through and dive on the ball to score adjacent to the posts. Kata converted his own try to give the Tongans a 22-8 lead with ten minutes remaining.
The Tongan’s experience was starting to shine through, with the Cook Islanders struggling to contain their counterparts over the final stages.
The final blow to the Cook Islands came when front rower Peni Terepo charged through the middle of their defence, racing 35 metres virtually untouched to score next to the posts. Kata’s conversion took the final score line to Tonga 28 – Cook Islands 8.
Tangiiti played a very controlled and dynamic role at halfback for the Cook Islands, playing a large role in their successes in the first half. His defence was first class, his pass selection strong and his kicking game was on point. Uiti Baker, Jordan Rapana, Esan Marsters, Francis Molo and Tangiiti were the Cook Islands’ best on field, with Tongans Jorge Taufua, Mahe Fonua, Solomone Kata and Joe Ofahengaue performing best for their nation.
Tonga have now qualified for the 2017 World Cup with this victory over the Cook Islands.
Tonga 28 (Solomone Kata 2, Jorge Taufua, Mahe Fonua, Peni Terepo tries; Solomone Kata 4 goals)
Cook Islands 8 (Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad, Anthony Gelling tries)