The PNG Kumuls have all but sealed a trip to the quarter finals of the Rugby League World Cup, overcoming a slow start to convincingly defeat the Cook Islands 32-16.
It was all the Kumuls early on in terms of possession and field position, however they lacked attacking polish and couldn't quite go the extra distance required to put points on the board. This was summed up when the Cook Islands made an error in the 8th minute to give PNG a golden opportunity to strike first, but instead, Lachlan Lam threw an intercept to Anthony Gelling, completely changing the momentum of the game.
Gelling didn't quite have the speed required to get all the way to the line, and when Papua New Guinea gave away a penalty on tackle four, they saw the Kuki's opting to take the two as a win for their defence.
The Kuki's weren't without opportunity to extend their lead, but Esan Marsters blew it when his grubber soared over the dead ball line. They paid the ultimate price when speedy winger Rodrick Tai wasted no time taking the tap, sprinting past two lazy defenders and going the length for the first try of the match. Rhyse Martin was kicking for the record of most consecutive successful conversion attempts of all time, so he of course missed to the right.
Cook Islands got back into good field position courtesy of a charge down, but poor handling once again let them down. The Kumuls received a piggy back up the field due to a crusher tackle, and there was no lack of polish present when Kyle Laybutt whipped out a lethal step to dive over for their second try of the game.
Three minutes later, PNG's Mckenzie Yei made a high tackle and was sent to the bin. It took the Kuki's a further seven minutes, but they eventually found an overlap to score, with winger Paul Ulberg strolling in untouched. Steven Marsters' sideline conversion meant it was only a two point deficit at the break.
The Cook Islands came out of the sheds with a terrible attitude defensively, allowing Yei to make an easy line break and put the Kumuls right on the attack. They completed the dream start to the half when Rhyse Martin spun his way over the tryline, extending the lead to 8 points with the successful conversion.
A penalty shortly after the try allowed the Kumuls to once again advance up the field, and Lam's attacking kick was too much for the Cook Islands, with Alex Johnston having the ball tapped back to him before setting Rodrick Tai up for try number two. Just like that, the 2 point halftime lead had ballooned out to 12 in just sevn minutes.
Cook Islands had their chances over the next little while, but poor fifth tackle options and an overall lack of direction in attack proved costly.
The dagger from Papua New Guinea came in the 57th minute, when Justin Olam made half a break and was able to get an arm free to offload to Lachlan Lam in support, the young playmaker running away to the tryline and making it a three score game.
The Cook Islands weren't about to give up hope though, getting penalties for consecutive high shots and finding an overlap which allowed Anthony Gelling to score. The green light was given from the video referee despite question marks on the grounding.
Any renewed hope they had was dashed 8 minutes later though, with Justin Olam getting the ball with nothing but green grass and the tryline in front of him.
The Kuki's got a consolation try with a minute to go when Kayal Iro was on the end of a nice backline movement. The missed conversion gave us the final score of 32-16 in favour of the Kumuls.
PNG have a match against Wales in which they can seal a trip to the quarter finals with a victory in, while the Cook Islands will have a mountain to climb against Tonga in the final week of the group stages.