Tonga run in 16 tries in comfortable World Cup victory over Cook Islands

When Captain Cook first set foot on Tonga in October 1773 he was so enamoured with the warmth of the reception afforded him and his crew that he subsequently named the archipelago the ‘Friendly Islands’.

Yet the welcoming spirit of those he first encountered paled against the generosity and benevolence of the Cook Islands team that crashed out of the Rugby League World Cup just a handful of miles from the explorer’s boyhood home.

Tonga’s 92-10 win was the third highest winning score in the tournament’s history, with four tries from Will Penisini, a hat-trick for wing Tesi Niu, and 14 successful conversions from half-back Isaiya Katoa, who also touched down to complete a personal haul of 32 points.

It was a dismal collapse from Tony Iro’s team, who had acquitted themselves well in their opening two Group D fixtures against Wales and Papua New Guinea, but soon appeared to lose their appetites amid a distinctly un-South Seas climate at the Riverside Stadium.

It also marked a terribly disappointing conclusion to the team’s otherwise fruitful if brief stay on Teesside, during which they engaged with local schoolchildren and visited the Captain Cook Birthplace Museum to coincide with the 294th anniversary of the navigator’s birth.

Cook claimed the first sighting of the Cook Islands by a European in 1773, the same year as the his ship the Resolution first reached Tonga, and his name was belatedly given to the islands.

Tonga v Cook Islands – Rugby League World Cup – Group D – Riverside Stadium
Will Penisini scored four of Tonga’s tries (PA)

Tonga crossed within 90 seconds of the start through NRL half-back Isaiya Katoa, but the Cook Islands at least hinted at a feisty challenge on 10 minutes when Steve Marsters burst half the length of the pitch only to see his try ruled out for a knock-on.

It proved their final flourish, as three minutes later captain Jason Taumalolo barged unchallenged through the underdogs’ rearguard and set the tone for a remarkably one-sided first period which ended with the Tongans 52 points to the good.

Katoa added a first try to his growing tally from his unerring boot before Nui completed his hat-trick as the Tongans, relatively disappointing in their opening two fixtures, cruised into the quarter-finals.

Marsters earned a rousing reception when he crossed for the Cook Islands’ first points with the game long gone, before Tinirau Arona scored and converted a second opportunity for the visitors on the hooter to at least give his side double digits and something to savour as they prepare to set sail for home.