Steven Marsters scored ten points as Cook Islands came from behind to beat a stubborn Wales 18-12 in their opening Rugby League World Cup match in Leigh.
Right wing Marsters caught Brad Takairangi’s kick midway through the second half as Cook Islands overturned a four-point half-time deficit and consigned Wales to an eighth straight World Cup loss.
Rhodri Lloyd and Super League veteran Anthony Gelling had exchanged early tries before Oliver Olds’ fine solo effort saw him beat two defenders and restore Wales’ six-point lead.
The deficit was cut to four points by a Marsters penalty on the stroke of half-time with Davvy Moale giving Cook Islands the lead for the first time on the hour mark.
A Marsters try sealed the much-needed victory, with his side set to face Papua New Guinea in a pivotal Group D fixture on Tuesday in Warrington.
Wales began the crunch Group D clash brightly and a deft grubber kick from Josh Ralph was pivotal in them breaking the deadlock, second row Lloyd running onto the bouncing ball and dotting down before Matty Fozard added the extras.
Their lead lasted less than 10 minutes as Cook Islands captain Esan Marsters strolled through a big hole in the Welsh defence before setting Gelling away to score under the posts.
Undeterred, John Kear’s side regained the lead when Olds’ dummy saw him break through before stepping past the full-back and diving over. Fozard was again successful with the boot to stretch the lead to 12-6.
The momentum swung back in the Cook Islands’ favour in the final stages of the first half but a Steven Marsters penalty was all they could muster and they trailed at the break.
Cook Islands ramped up the pressure in the second half but it took until the 60th minute for Moale to barge his way through the Wales defence and put his side ahead for the first time.
A beautifully placed kick from Takairangi then saw Steven Marsters leap highest in the corner and expertly get the ball down to seal the points for The Kukis.
Wales remain without a win in a World Cup fixture since 2000 while the win is just Cook Islands’ second in the tournament’s history following 28-24 success over the same opposition in 2013.