BRISTOL, England (AP) — Captain Joseph Paulo inspired the United States Tomahawks to a win on their Rugby League World Cup debut when they upset the Cook Islands 32-20 at Memorial Stadium on Wednesday.
Paulo had warned that the U.S. wouldn't just be making up the numbers at the World Cup, and the NRL five-eighth proved it as he scored a try and had a hand in three more, landed four of his eight shots at goal, and was the deserved man of the match.
The last two teams to see action in the tournament couldn't be separated until the end, exciting the crowd of 7,200. They were 10-10 at halftime, then 14-14 and 20-20 until the U.S. left behind the Cooks in the last nine minutes with tries to replacement Mark Offerdahl, from a Paulo offload, and halfback Craig Priestly. Paulo converted that and capped another history-making night for the Tomahawks with his second penalty.
The Americans were only given a whiff of a chance after stunning France in a warm-up match, while the Cooks were favored because they were appearing in their third World Cup and had a squad boasting more professional players.
The Cooks got the ball rolling in the fourth minute through standoff Brad Takairangi but the U.S. went ahead with Priestly setting up tries on either wing. He threw a big pass out right to winger Bureta Faraimo to slide in for the first, then his kick caught the Cooks in disarray and Matthew Petersen scored on the left wing. Paulo converted the second try for 10-6, but the Cooks leveled when Isaac John gave fullback Drury Low an angled run to the left corner.
A minute into the second half, Paulo charged down Takairangi 45 meters out and regathered to score, but Low ran in left winger Lulia Lulia to level again. On the hour, a Paulo offload freed up Tuisegasega Samoa to score a converted try, but the Cooks replied again when second-rower Dominique Peyroux claimed a high kick on the U.S. tryline. Jordan Rapana's second goal from six attempts made it 20-20 with a quarter to go, but the Americans were far from finished.
The U.S. next plays Wales on Sunday, followed by Scotland, which upset Tonga on Tuesday. The World Cup moves across the Channel on Friday, when France takes on New Zealand, which is resting second-rower Sonny Bill Williams and injured winger Manu Vatuvei, who scored three tries against Samoa.