Tonga 92-10 Cook Islands: Tonga seal top spot with 16-try thrashing

James Gordon
Tonga v Cook Islands Tui Lolohea

Photo: News Images

Tonga put the World Cup’s big three on red alert with a 92-10 thumping of Cook Islands to round off the group stages.

Skipper Jason Taumalolo returned from suspension to send his side on their way to an emphatic victory with two tries of his own in the opening 20 minutes.

They now go on to face either France or Samoa in the quarter-finals at Warrington next weekend, before a possible semi-final against England at the Emirates.

After a win against Wales and a fighting performance in defeat to Papua New Guinea, Cook Islands came in to this game – the first ever rugby league match at the Riverside Stadium in Middlesbrough – with an outside hope of causing an upset.

Those hopes were almost extinguished inside the first minute, with Tonga registering the game’s opening try in the very first set.

Isaiya Katoa’s dummy unlocked the Cook Islands right-side defence and the door remained ajar for much of the first half, on this occasion he scampered through to set up an easy try for Monday night’s hat-trick hero Daniel Tupou.

It’s unlikely the afternoon would have gone any differently had a Cook Islands try on 10 minutes not been denied by the video referee. Tonga’s Keaon Kolomatangi lost the ball in a tackle just inside Cook Islands’ half, with London Broncos winger Paul Ulberg picking up and going 60 metres, but it was adjudged to have been forced out forward by a Cook Islands hand.

That was to be the closest Cook Islands got and the rest of the first half turned in to a procession.

Having sat out the first two games through a suspension picked up in the NRL, international rugby league catalyst and trailblazer Taumalolo made up for lost time by powering through four defenders for his first try, and then scooping up a pass that hit the deck to go over for a second shortly after and it was 16-0 after 20 minutes.

Lively full-back Teesi Niu got in on the act next for the first of his hat-trick of tries, before Will Penisini touched down from Soni Luke’s neat short kick through after Moeaki Fotuaika had bounced off a few tacklers.

After creating more width on the left, Mosese Suli’s kick inside enabled Niu to touch down for 34-0.

The seventh was a penalty try, awarded after Penisini was tackled without the ball by Tevin Arona as he took on Siona Katoa’s inside pass, and Cook Islands’ luck was well and truly out when Tui Lolohea’s kick was knocked back inside, bounced off his legs and then sat up for the Huddersfield man to touch down.

Tonga made it nine first half tries on the hooter when off the back of a penalty, Felise Kaufusi got his name on the scoresheet with a break down the left.

It was a start contrast to the real first half test that Tonga had faced against Wales in St Helens, and it became a case of just how many they could rack up after the break.

They had to wait four minutes for try number 10, Sione Katoa and Penisini linking up on the right to put Isaiya Katoa over.

That was followed by two eye-catching tries. The first, a swerving break by Suli and a lovely delayed pass for Niu put him in for his hat-trick, and then after Tupou had broke through and Talatau Amone was chased down by Brendan Piakura, Lolohea snuck over from dummy half in the corner.

They went back to back when a loose pass fell between the legs of Taumalolo, and Lolohea scooped up to race away and set up for Penisini, before Tupou’s converted touch down in the corner brought up 80 with 15 minutes left.

The biggest cheers were reserved for Cook Islands though, who managed to get on the board in the 69th minute. After forcing a drop out, they shifted the ball right and Steve Marsters managed to hold off Tupou enough to get the ball down right in the corner.

Penisini and Amone added further scores as Tonga had to settle for just the 16 tries in the end.

As they pushed for more at the end, Hull KR’s Brad Takairangi snared an intercept from 20 metres out and unselfishly handed the ball on to Tinirau Arona for a try in his final career game.

But as Sia’s Unstoppable blared out of the sound system after each Tonga second half try, you wondered whether they’ll be just unstoppable today or for the rest of the tournament.

Full time – Tonga 92-10 Cook Islands

Tonga: Teesi Niu, Daniel Tupou, Mosese Suli, Will Penisini, Sione Katoa, Tui Lolohea, Addin Fonua-Blake, Soni Luke, Moeaki Fotuaika, Felise Kaufusi, Keaon Koloamatangi, Jason Taumololo. Subs: Talatau Amone, Tevita Tatola, David Fifita, Ben Murdoch-Masila.

Tries: Tupou 2, Taumalolo 2, Niu 3, Penisini 4, Lolohea 2, Kaufusi, Katoa, Amone. Goals: Katoa 14

Cook Islands: Kayal Iro, Steve Marsters, Evan Marsters, Geoff Daniela, Paul Ulberg, Brad Takairangi, Johnathon Ford, Makahesi Makatoa, Aaron Teroi, Tepai Moeroa, Dominique Peyroux, Brendan Piakura, Zane Tetevano. Subs: Tevin Arona, Tinirau Arona, Davvy Moale, Dylan Napa.

Tries: Marsters, Arona. Goals: Arona.

Attendance: 8,342