THE Papua New Guinea Kumuls yesterday gave a rugby league lesson to the Cook Islands as they qualified for next year’s Four Nations tournament with a comprehensive 42-14 win in the SP Brewery Pacific Cup grand final at the Lloyd Robson Oval in Port Moresby.
Watched by a fullhouse patriotic crowd, which included Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare and Governor-General Sir Paulias Matane, the Kumuls showed all and sundry that their bid to enter a team in the tough Australian NRL competition was no joke, with an eight tries to three romp over the hapless Islanders.
Fullback David Mead, later named man of the match, capped off a five-star performance with a hat-trick of tries.
A dazzling 60th minute try by the scintillating 20-year-old showed his sheer class as he had the Cook Islands in sixes and sevens all over the paddock.
“Everything went well today,” Mead said before being swamped by hundreds of adoring fans, in scenes that resembled Beatlemania.
“We’ve been training very hard for the last three to four weeks,” he said
The Kumuls, fired up after their 44-14 thrashing of Tonga last Sunday, had too much all-round strength and were supported by an expected sell-out crowd.
They were led capably by their UK-based contingent of Menzie Yere, Jason Chan and John Wilshere.
The class of PNG shone all over the paddock through the UK trio, Mead, halves Dion Aye and Keith Peter, props Rodney Pora and James Nightingale, “white shark” hooker Jay Aston, utility Charlie Wabo, and backrowers Chan and Siegfried Gande.
Cooks Islands came in with all guns firing and, from the outset, looked set for a David verse Goliath epic as they had so convincingly done over the last two weeks against Samoa in Australia and then Fiji in their Pacific Cup game last weekend.
The Kumuls drew first blood in the 11th minute with a try to winger Richard Kambo, off a brilliant offload from Mead, and with the extras from Wilshere, were flying high 6-0.
A 15th minute touchdown from Mead took PNG ahead to 10-0, however, Cook Islands’ fighting spirit was epitomised after that with quick tries to halfback Daniel Fepuleai in the 24th minute and another three minutes later to centre Keith Ualia to tie the scores at 10-10 and set the stage for a thrilling encounter. Centre Anthon Kui, however, had other ideas as he scored in the 32nd minute to put the Kumuls ahead, and with another from Mead, the home side led 20-10 at the break.
At resumption, it was basically all one-way traffic as PNG piled on with tries to centre Yere (49th minute), Mead (56th), Kambo (62nd) and Yere (71) for an unassailable 42-10 lead.
Cook Islands allowed agro to creep into their game, and this cost them dearly in the last 10 minutes, although they had some consolation with a high-flying try to winger Domique Peyroux.
Cook Islands’ captain, Tere Glassie, shed tears after the game, while coach Australian David Fairleigh congratulated PNG.
“We wish you all the best in the Four Nation.
“We have no NRL experience. Hopefully, this will give us something to build on.”
But while it was tears in the Cook camp, all celebrations for PNG, as hundreds of fans – in unforgettable scenes – swamped on to the field and carried their heroes, posed for photographs, as well as asked for autographs.
“Thank you for all your support this afternoon,” captain Wilshere, who, apart from the hundreds, had his own legion of fans from his Butibam village in Lae, said.
“Rugby league’s our sport and we love it.
“The Four Nations will be a tremendous boost for our country.”
Coach Adrian gave a vote-of-thanks to the PNG crowd for their unwavering support over the years.
“We’re improving year by year,” he said.
“Young players are coming in all the time.
“Mi hamamas long yupela sapotim mipela long last tu wiks (I’m happy with your support over the last two weeks),” he said.
PNG 42 (Mead (3), Kambo (2), Yere (2), Kui tries, Wilshere (5) goals beat Cook Islands 14 (D Fepuleai, L Lulia, D Peryoux tries; B Taia goal