By STEVE MASCORD
COOK Islands winger Jordan Rapana wrote himself into international rugby league folklore with a spectacular bombed try – and then told his coach he would have converted it to tie an epic World Cup battle with Tonga.
It took 23 years for Great Britain winger Martin Offiah’s in-goal fumble in Christchurch to be challenged – by Sonny Bill Williams in Warrington – and only nine more days for a gaffe that arguably eclipsed them both.
Searching for the first ever win in a World Cup match, David Fairleigh’s side roared back against the more favoured Tongans at Leigh Sports Village and by the 68th minute trailed by just six points.
After play broke down briefly, causing the Tonga defence to hesitate, five-eighth Johnathan Ford put Canberra’s Rapana over in the right corner without a hand laid on him.
But as the former Gold Coast prodigy tried to ground the ball, he dropped it. There was no further scoring and the Cooks’ campaign is over.
“He reckons he would have kicked the goal, too – fair enough,” said coach David Fairleigh.
“(The error) is not why we got beat. The game writes its own story. There was a collection of things throughout the game. To pin it on one thing … it’s not Jordan’s fault, that’s for sure.”
Interestingly, Rapana hadn’t even done the goal-kicking up until then in a game which kept alive Tonga’s and guaranteed the United States their quarter-final against Australia.
The duties had instead been performed by Newtown winger Chris Taripo, who with a hat-trick, provided all his team’s points and was man of the match.
Crossing in the 18th, 42nd and 61st minutes, he beat the flanker who has been ahead of him at Sydney Roosters all season, grand final star Daniel Tupou.
“Tupou, he was in my position at my club, and I was up against him. It was good,” said Taripo, who is without a club next season.
“I was stoked just to be in the team because I wasn’t named last week.”
The towering Tupou acknowleged he had been bested. “I know him as a bloke, a good friend of mine,” the 23-year-old said.
“I talked to him after the game, said congrats and thanks for showing me up.”
After losing their opening match to Scotland, Brent Kite’s Tongans were expected to roast the Cooks.
But after Glen Fisiiahi’s early scored for Tonga, the underdogs hit the front with Taripo’s first two touchdowns. The second, from Drury Low’s kick, took advantage Tupou’s height by keeping the ball on the ground.
On the half hour, Tonga regained the lead when second rower Jason Taumalolo bullocked over from close range – and then centre Konrad “Hurricane” Hurrell posted the individual try of the tournament.
First he beat Cook Islands captain Zeb Taia and he added five more victims on a bumping, steam-rolling 35-metre run to the tryline two minutes short of the break.
Taripo completed his hat-trick two minutes after halftime and converted for 18-16 and there it stayed until Tonga winger Jorg Taufua managed a benefit-of-the-doubt try in the 61st minute, with video ref Richard Silverwood unable to see the ball on the ground.
Tonga needs the United States to beat Scotland on Thursday to keep alive their campaign. “We definitely need a favour,” said Kite. “They’ve played well to get into the position they’re in.
“I’m just hoping they’re not going to take this one too easy and rest too many.
“I’m not too proud to beg: get out there USA and get us a win. We’ll owe you one.”
Cook Islands have a dead rubber against Wales at Neath on Sunday. “We want to try to create history by getting our first win at the World Cup,” said their captain, Zeb Taia.
TONGA 22 (Glen Fisiiahi, Jason Taumalolo, Konrad Hurrell, Jorg Taufua tries; Samsoni Langi 3 goals) beat COOK ISLANDS 16 (Chris Taripo 3 tries; 2 goals) at Leigh Sports Village. Referee: Ashley Klein (Australia). Crowd: 10,544.
Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD