Wales head coach John Kear spoke of his pride following his side’s 18-12 defeat to Cook Islands in the World Cup and believes the performance earned the respect from spectators.
The side went into the game as massive underdogs with the bookmakers, but opened the scoring at the Leigh Sports Village through Rhodri Lloyd.
A further try from Ollie Olds gave the predominantly part-time Welsh side a 12-8 lead at the break.
However, Cook Islands fought back to claim a victory in the second 40, with the winning try from Steven Marsters.
Wales had the chance to snatch a late draw, only to miss out on the opportunity and fall to a defeat in their opening Group D fixture.
A heartbroken and understandably disappointed Kear was a proud coach following the defeat, with his side showing improvements from their 2017 tournament in Australia.
John Kear: That is the best Wales rugby league performance for a long time
“I think we have earned the respect of a lot of people,” said Kear.
“Personally, I think that is the best Wales rugby league performance for a long, long time. I am immensely proud of the players and the effort they have put in.
“We are one of the lower-ranked teams and we have got a lot of part-time players. But we’ve demonstrated being part-time isn’t simply about ability sometimes, it is about life circumstance.
“I certainly think anyone who has watched that will come away having had full value for money and with a lot of admiration for the fellas who wore red. The pride comes through, but it is disappointing as well.”
Wales continue their tournament in Group D against Tonga next Monday at the Totally Wicked Stadium.