PNG Pukpuks to meet Samoa in home and away series in 2011 World Cup Qualifier
The Papua New Guinea Pukpuks (Crocodiles) have proved themselves the best side in the Federation of Oceania Rugby Unions after a tough but deserved 29‐21 win over Cook Islands in Port Moresby. They have won the FORU Cup but more significantly progress to the next stage of the 2011 Rugby World Cup qualifiers, a two match series against Samoa this month.
Fielding a lighter forward pack the Pukpuks scored four tries to the Cook’s two in a tight contest which saw both sides dominate in different areas. For the Cook Islanders their obvious weight advantage enabled them to control the scrums and the mauls which contrasted with the Pukpuks faster and more fluid backline.
First points came off the boot of Cook Islands fullback Nathan Robinson who sank two penalties in the opening 10 minutes for a 6 ‐0 lead.
PNG struck back in spectacular fashion in the 15th minute with Pukpuk fullback Jack Maraha completing a raid which started from half way. With the conversion successful PNG reclaimed the lead 7‐6. With a crowd of some 10,000 behind the home team at Lloyd Robson Oval the Pukpuks laid on another try almost immediately when solid centre Chris Hogi found space in the Cooks’ mid field to bust through on a swerving run before speed demon Gina Ponda put the icing on the great work by Hogi. PNG went up 14‐6.
Cook Islands rallied back to gain ascendancy in the rucks and mauls stringing phases together and turned good field position and relentless pressure to points with half back Wynyard Marsters to snatching a try to bring back the deficit to one point 14‐13. Robinson than showed his impressive skill set when he calmly kicked a 45m drop goal right on the half time hooter to give the Cooks a 16‐14 lead at the break.
PNG started the second 40 minutes with a Maraha penalty to regain a slim 17‐16 advantage. Rugged PNG flanker Alex Haija hung onto the last pass of a stirring counter‐attack started by flyer Ponda and helped along by hooker Westley Thomas. At 24‐16 Cook Islands changed tack employing more risks but found the PNG mid field and outside edges hard to by pass. They finally snagged a try from a line out in the 61st minute but Robinson missed the crucial conversion to leave the scores at 24‐21 heading into the last quarter of play.
With the masses urging them on in the final 10 minutes the Pukpuks withstood a desperate Cook Islands before Ponda closed the show with a scintillating touch down four minutes before time for the final score line of 29‐21.
A graceful Cook Islands captain Joseph Marsters said that his team failed to capitalize when they had good possession but admitted that they were not able to shut down the Pukpuks backs.
The Prime Minister of PNG Sir Michael Somare who watched the match said he was thrilled to witness the high standard of rugby displayed by both sides.
PNG now focuses all their efforts on facing Samoa in a mammoth task for world qualification this month.
Match Scores and round up:
IRB‐FORU Cup Final between PNG Pukpuks and Cook Islands
PNG Pukpuks 29 (Gina Ponda 2, Jack Maraha, Alex Haija tries J. Maraha 4 con, 1 pen) defeated Cook Islands 21 (Wynyard Marsters‐Whanga, Tamati Hawea tries Nathan Robinson 1 con, 2 pen, 1 drop goal)