Wales v Cook Islands preview
Wales v Cook Islands
The Gnoll, Neath
Sunday, 2pm (UK time)
Monday, 1am (AEDT), 12am (AEST)
In many sports played across the globe, there's no shame in falling to the might of United States of America. But in rugby league, handing the Americans are saloon passage to the quarter-finals is a major disappointment for both these countries in this World Cup.
That's certainly the case for co-hosts Wales, who not only occupied fifth spot in the RLIF rankings at the start of the tournament but boast two exceptional front-rowers in Craig Kopzcak and Ben Flower. A no-show in the second half of their 32-16 loss to Italy preceded an even more surprising 24-16 upset loss to the Yanks, a result that prompted frustrated coach Iestyn Harris to take aim at the Australian-flavoured make-up of the American team.
"There's a lot of Australian-based players in there that are of very good quality," he said post-game. "There wasn't one USA man in the whole squad." The Tomahawks were quick to point out their 10 nationals and residents, but the debate, of course, was moot.
The Cook Islands, on the other hand, actually rank 18th in the world, behind the likes of Russia, Serbia, Canada and Lebanon – all of whom missed out on the World Cup. So one could argue that their presence alone has been an achievement.
But with a spread of NRL talent across the park, including improved Titans centre Brad Takairangi and Roosters firebrand Dylan Napa, there were realistic expectations of a quarter-final birth.
Instead, the Cooks join the Dragons as the two World Cup flops meeting in the only genuine dead rubber of the tournament. That in itself is a credit to the organisers, who have put together an entertaining for month of rugby league.
Watch Out Wales: Fullback Drury Low has only been sighted on a handful of occasions for both Canberra and Canterbury-Bankstown in the NRL, but has quietly enjoyed an impressive outing for his home nation. While the tip sheet prioritises his speed, his ability to jump into the backline and create for his outside men is underestimated. At worst, he'll ask you plenty of questions in defence.
Watch Out Cook Islands: Welsh winger Rhys Williams made two line breaks, set up two tries for centre Christiaan Roets and ran a total of 169 metres in their loss to USA. The Warrington Wolf only played nine games in the Super League this year, but has the ability to make a real impact on the game.
Key Match-Up: The two forward packs. For the Dragons, this clash marks the final game in red for veteran forwards Neil Budworth and Jordan James. James will end his international career equalling Ian Watson's 30 appearances for Wales.
In contrast, this World Cup has been quite the experience for young Roosters upstart Dylan Napa, who made a name for himself with a couple of big hits on Kangaroos forward Paul Gallen during the recent NRL finals series. It will be an emotional farewell for a couple of Welsh stalwarts, but the Cook Islands certainly will be in the mood to ruin the party. Expect some fireworks.
Televised: 7mate - Live from Monday 12:30am (NSW); Sunday 11:30pm (Qld)
The Way We See It: Emotion meets youthful exuberance in this one, and it's hard to say which one will last 80 minutes. In that case, you've just got to with the home team, who have plenty to prove to the critics. Wales by 14.