Rugby League: Cooks prove best of the rest

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The Independent Online
reports from Gigg Lane, Bury

Ireland 6 Cook Islands 22

The tiny Cook Islands became the best of the rest in the world of rugby league, overcoming brave Irish resistance to win the Halifax Emerging Nations World Cup last night.

Although the South Pacific side were always the more mobile and fluent, it was only in the last seven minutes that two tries guaranteed them victory.

Despite a torrential downpour that threatened to turn them into submerging nations, the two finalists showed why they had reached this stage of a gratifyingly successful competition by moving the ball ambitiously from the start.

It was the Irish who made the breakthrough, however, the Islanders' allowing Martin Crompton's kick to bounce and eventually fall for the right-winger, Phelim Comerford.

The Cooks, with their scrum-half, Ali Davys, setting up play cleverly, got into any number of promising positions, but the combination of the difficult handling conditions and some stern Irish defence kept them out.

In the 24th minute, the Cooks made their pressure tell, Davys' pass sending Alex Kermode over. The Islanders took the lead with a disputed try 10 minutes later, Craig Bowen chipping over the defence and kicking ahead again for Sonny Shepherd to score from an apparently offside position. The damage was compounded by Meti Noovau's first goal.

After looking on the point of cracking again in the early stage of the second half, Ireland clawed their way back into the game. Good close support play took them into the Cooks' 22 and a high tackle by Jason Temu on Richard Smyth yielded a penalty safely landed by Comerford.

It was Ireland's turn to press now, but the Cooks turned defence into attack, breaking out of their own half for their blood-bin substitute, Tangi Tangi Metua, to be tackled without the ball and for Noovao to restore their six-point lead.

With the game understandably becoming messier, Ireland wasted their best chance when Phil Owens knocked on at another scrum near the line. The Cook Islands immediately made them pay, Bowen kicking through and winning the race to get the fingertip on the ball despite slipping and scrabbling the last few yards on hands and knees.

The Irish never bowed the knee, but in the last minute James Cuthers forced his way over and the Polynesian drums had the last word over the Irish pipes in the world music fusion on the touchline in front of the 4,147 crowd.

COOK ISLANDS: Toa (Ngatangiia-Matavera); Shepherd (Ngatangiia-Matavera), Paitai (Tupapa-Maraerenga), Tuara (Tupapa-Maraerenga), Tariu (Tupapa-Maraerenga); Bowen (Illawarra), Davys (Brisbane); Hunter (Ngatangiia -Matavera), Cuthers (Otahuhu), Temu (Oldham), Kermode (Ngatangiia-Matavera), Henry (Tupapa-Maraerenga), Noovao (Auckland). Substitutes: Tini (Tupapa-Maraerenga) for Henry, 63.

IRELAND: Gordon (Bangor Vikings); Comerford (Dublin Blues), Richard Smith (Halifax), Ricky Smith (Bangor Vikings), McEntaggart (Dublin Blues); McElhatton (Dudley Hill), Crompton (Oldham); Smyth (Illingworth), McCallion (unattached), Casey (Featherstone), Grainey (Leigh Miners), Nuttall (Newsome Magpies), Owens (Dudley Hill). Substitutes: O'Sullivan (Dublin Blues) for Smyth, 53; Foy (Killarney) for Ricky Smith, 53; Cleary (Dublin Blues) for Grainey, 64; Doyle (Dublin Blues) for Gordon, 69.

Referee: D Hale (New Zealand).

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