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Cook Islands rugby league loses opener to PNG Kumuls

Monday 16 October 2023 | Written by Supplied | Published in League, Sports

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Cook Islands rugby league loses opener to PNG Kumuls
Cook Islands halfback Tevin Arona suffered a suspected neck/back injury while attempting a tackle on the first set of the game. He was sent to hospital for precautionary scans. 23101580

Cook Islands lost 46-10 against Papua New Guiner at the start of the Pacific Championships on Saturday.

Cook Islands halfback Tevin Arona suffered a suspected neck/back injury while attempting a tackle on the first set of the game.

He was sent to hospital for precautionary scans. 

And now, Papua New Guinea are now undefeated in seven Tests against the Cook Islands.

PNG led by a four-try effort from Nene Macdonald, making a commanding start to their Pacific Championships campaign on Saturday afternoon. 

Macdonald's four tries at the Santos National Football Stadium in Port Moresby set a new single game record for the Kumuls, while Cowboys young gun Zac Laybutt came up just short of equaling Rhyse Martin's record for most points in a game for PNG with an 18-point haul. 

The Kumuls were in devastating touch through the opening half and had all but killed the game off by the time the opening quarter of the match rolled around.

During that time Justin Holbrook's side scored a point per minute and enjoyed a possession advantage which saw the Cook Islands spend less than six of the opening 40 minutes with the ball in their hands. 

Zac Laybutt crossed twice in the first half, the second of which came at the end of some crisp attacking footy from the home side, and in between that and Macdonald's work hulking front-rowers Epel Kapinias and Valentine Richard grabbed doubles. 

Robert Derby got one of his own on the other wing to help PNG lead 30-0 at the break. 

While they had some misfortune along the way, which included losing halfback Tevin Arona on the very first set to a neck injury which him hospitalised as a precaution, the Cook Islands were also guilty of making far too many errors and twice kicked out on the full on the restart of play following PNG tries. 

To their credit the Karmichael Hunt-coached side showed vast improvement in the second half to leak only 16 points, while Esom Ioka and Steven Marsters restored some pride with four-pointers of their own, which importantly also improved the differential outcome for their side. 

The Kumuls had a couple of further try claims ruled out by the Bunker in the closing exchanges – which included Jack de Belin being denied a try on Test debut by a desperate last-ditch tackle – but they eventually added to their tally through McDonald's fourth with three to go, after he earlier struck twice in the space of three minutes. 

In addition to their chief point-scorers, Papua New Guinea were boosted by a strong showing from Lachlan Lam, who set up three tries, while Kapinias was a pillar of strength up front on his way to 183 run metres. 

Match Snapshot

  • Papua New Guinea are now undefeated in seven Tests against the Cook Islands. 
  • Nene Macdonald set a new record for most tries in a Test by a PNG player, with his four tries putting him past the previous mark set by David Mead (twice) and Justin Olam. 
  • Zac Laybutt marked his Test debut with an 18-point haul which came through a first-half double and five conversions. 
  • Cook Islands halfback Tevin Arona suffered a suspected neck/back injury while attempting a tackle on the first set of the game. He was sent to hospital for precautionary scans. 
  • PNG halfback Kyle Laybutt and Cook Islands interchange man Rhys Dakin underwent HIAs in the first and second half respectively, with both passing and returning to the field.
  • The game ended with PNG having enjoyed 63 percent possession.
  • Pride Petterson-Robati made 51 tackles for the Cook Islands.  

Play of the Game 

Kumuls rugby league at its very best. An initial break from Liam Horne set Alex Johnston free on a long-range run which saw him beat a couple of defenders before popping a flick pass to Zac Laybutt who headed back in field for a memorable four-pointer. 

What's Next

The Cook Islands have little time to lick their wounds ahead of taking on Fiji Bati next Sunday, while Papua New Guinea will enjoy a week off before taking on Fiji in Week 3 of the Pacific Championships. 

Corey RosserNRL Reporter