World Cup Report: USA 32-20 Cook Islands

Captain Joseph Paulo masterminded a superb victory for the USA over the Cook Islands in their first ever Rugby League World Cup match.

The Parramatta Eels stand-off led his troops around the field in wet and windy conditions at Bristol’s Memorial Stadium in front of a healthy 7247 crowd in the last of the first round of World Cup games.

His towering kick five minutes from time led to the gamebreaking try for Craig Priestly, another man who impressed for the Tomahawks.

Until then, there had been little to separate the two sides, as they battled end to end in another competitive tournament game.

It was clear the conditions were going to play their part after the opening set, when a high kick by Isaac John caused upset in the USA defence, and the Cooks forced a drop out.

From the resulting set, Tinirau Arona got over the whitewash, but was held up by some great defence, confirmed by the video referee. That defence wasn’t so great a tackle later when another kick troubled the USA defence, and a fumble by former Wakefield winger Matt Petersen left a simple try for Cooks stand-off Brad Takairangi.

Kick proved to be crucial throughout, and it was a questionable 40-20 from Craig Priestly that got the Tomahawks on the front foot.

It looked to have bounced just short of the 20m line from the stands, but USA weren’t waiting around to ask questions, and after a big drive from Wigan bound prop Eddy Pettybourne, Priestly fed Bureta Faraimo for the USA‘s first ever World Cup try.

That gave USA confidence, and soon Paulo took control of the game. His high kick was allowed to bounce, and Faraimo gathered to feed Michael Garvey and send Petersen away in the corner.

Paulo tagged on a penalty for 10-6, although the game was level by half time. After Anthony Gelling was held up over the line, the Cooks pushed it left and an injection of pace from Drury Low saw him over the line.

It was anyone’s game after the break, and it was USA who drew first blood when Paulo charged down a kick on the opening set of the half, and ran 30 metres for the score.

That gave them the initiative that they just wouldn’t let go of.

The Cooks hit back through Lulia Lulia, presented a walk in following a John-Low combination, to tie things up at 14-14, but the USA hit the front again when Paulo took it to the line, refused an offload to Mark Offerdahl, freed the ball and lively hooker Tui Samoa pounced and found the line.

Paulo’s goal, only the third from seven tries across both teams at that point, opened up a six point lead.

The Cooks, though, weren’t beaten yet, and it was again a kick that led to the next try. Up it went from John, and after Petersen was beaten to it by an attacker, Dominique Peyroux caught it in the air ahead of full-back Kristian Freed to score.

As the game entered the last 10 minutes, it looked like there might be some difficult drop goal attempts to come.

But the USA weren’t thinking about that, and after Paulo’s kick was charged down, they had the field position.

Big drives by Clint Newton and Offerdahl got them on the front foot, and it was Offerdahl who eventually crashed over from Paulo’s short ball.

At 24-20 with time ticking on, the USA believed a shock win was on the cards, and they sealed it when a monster kick by Paulo was caught and grounded just short of the dead ball line by Priestly to record a memorable win.

USA: Freed, Faraimo, Tagaloa, Garvey, Petersen, Joseph Paulo, Priestly, Junior Paulo, Luani, Pettybourne, Newton, Shipway, D Howard. Interchanges: Samoa, Offerdahl, S Howard, Soloai.

Cook Islands: Low, Lulia Lulia, Gelling, K Lulia, Rapana, Takairangi, John, Napa, Fepuleai, Tetavano, Taia, Peyroux, Arona. Interchanges: Brunton, Mataora, Sopoaga, Tangata.

Attendance: 7247.

Venue: Memorial Stadium, Bristol

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