TONGA players refused to talk to waiting media after being stunned 30-7 by Cook Islands on a free-wheeling opening night of the World Cup Nines at Bankwest Stadium.
The Tongan players had endured a strife-torn build-up to an international season that will include Tests against Great Britain and Australia, with the country’s prime minister intervening in a dispute between the players and the governing body.
On Friday night in front of 12,528 fans and with key player Andrew Fifita rested, the ‘Tongan Invitational IX’ were all at sea against the rampant Kukis, who ran up a 14-0 lead by halftime and quickly extended it after the break.
The the team that wanted to be “the new Tonga” comprehensively outclassed the old Tonga.
“We’ve got a team that’s not full of stars but we’ve been tight in camp but they’re young and they’re hungry and it showed out there,” Brad Takairangi told Fox Sports,
“Everyone (in the Cook Islands) are volunteers, they’re not getting paid so
“Being an older person in the group and seeing these young guys coming through, it’s huge for us. Hopefully Cook Islands Rugby League has got a really good future.”
The other key performers on day one were Australia and England.
Fulltback Sam Tomkins celebrated his return to the southern hemisphere with a five-star showing as England cruised past neighbours Wales 25-4.
In the fifth minute, Tomkins sliced down the right flank, off-loaded inside to Gareth Widdop and then backed up to become airbourne, colliding with and upright as he arrowed over.
“I’ll wrap myself around the post again if I have to,” said Tomkins, referring to the bonus point for scoring between the uprights.
“It’s a bit of fun, isn’t it? We’re not going to hang our hats on winning this as a national team but we’re all competitive – the same as any team. We want to win.”
David Fifita, who scored two tries in Australia’s 25-12 win over New Zealand, played Nines for Australia before he made first grade – at last year’s Commonwealth Games.
The Aussies, who have never made a Nines final, showed they meant business from the kick-off when Melbourne’s Josh Addo-Carr scorched the turf to dot down.
In the women’s pool, Australia were too good for close rivals New Zealand, winning 22-8.
And the PNG Orchids shook the stadium with some big hits on England before the northern hemisphere team asserted its superiority 25-4.
In the remaining men’s games, Lebanon outpointed France 12-8, Samoa beat Fiji 32-17 and Papua New Guinea blitzed the United States 27-10.