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Turuva steals the show in Bati’s late try to stun Aitu

The Fiji Bati came from behind to pull off a 22-18 victory over the Cook Islands Aitu in the week two of Pacific Championships on Sunday, October 22, at Santos National Football Stadium in Port Moresby.

After getting thumped by the PNG Kumuls with a commanding scoreline of 46-10 last week Sunday in the opener, Cook Islands did their homework during the week and went firing in all cylinders, matching the star-studded Fijian outfit in every department.

In the opening 18 minutes of the contest, both sides were fighting for ball possession and field territory. The points came begging, but no team managed to find the try line. With Cook Islands holding the ball in Fiji’s red zone, Esen Masters finally opened up the game in the 19th minute, stepping off his right foot and finding a hole in Bati’s tiring defense. The Kukis took a 6-0 lead over the Batis.

Seven minutes later, Fiji responded with a try through Maika Sivo in the 24th minute. Waqa Blake made a line break and offloaded to Sivo, who outrun the Kukis’ winger to score in the corner. The conversion was unsuccessful, leaving the score 6-4.

The arm wrestle and intensity of the game built up until in the 32nd minute, Fiji’s second-rower Kitone Kautoga was sin-binned for a high contact on Rhys Dakin. Cook Islands capitalized on the sinbin offense and scored their second try through Esom Ioka, extending the lead to 12-4.

A few minutes later, the Batis scored their second try through fullback Jahrem Bula, who sliced and ran through the Kukis’ defense, bagging his first international try on debut. Bula’s try reduced the deficit to 2 points, leaving the half-time score 12-10.

The Batis took the lead for the first time in the final 15 minutes of second half, when center Waqa Blake pounced on the loose ball that ricocheted off his teammate’s head and raced to score under the uprights. The conversion was nailed successfully, changing the scoreline to 16-12.

Cook Islands were not outdone, as their outstanding playmaker Esen Masters made a short face pass to the hard running prop Isaiah Cooper-Tetevano, who used his brute strength to barge over the try line, leapfrogging Fiji 18-16.

The seesawing affair continued until in the 75th minute, Sunia Turuva received an offload from Jahrem Bula and managed to swerve past a couple of defenders to score a match winner, putting the game beyond doubt in a 22-18 grandstand finish.

Fiji was tipped as favorites to defeat the Cook Islands easily, but the determined and courageous Kukis rose to the occasion, giving the Batis a run for their money. The Cook Islanders proved everyone wrong and delivered a highly spirited fight, making the Batis work hard to earn the victory.

Despite going down to Fiji, Cook Islands’ makeshift halfback and versatile outside back Esan Masters had a blinder, scoring a try and assisting two tries to walk away with the Man-of-the-Match. The game ended in a respectable fashion.

On the flip side, Sunia Turuva and Jahrem Bula were causing havoc at the back and in the middle, carving up meters and asking questions on the Kukis’ defense. The two exciting debutants were a threat all around the park.

The game hung in the balance, but the Batis were fortunate to steal the game in the dying minutes. Thanks to the NRL’s Rookie Player of the Year and Penrith Panthers’ Premiership winner Sunia Turuva, who scored the match-winning try, putting the icing on the cake. Cometh the moment, cometh the Wakanda whiz-kid.

Cook Islands have bowed out of the Bowl Championship, ending their campaign on a positive note. The Kukis have left for their country early this morning (October 23rd, 2023).

Fiji Bati will go head-to-head with the PNG Kumuls on Sunday, October 29. This is a much anticipated match as all the mad rugby league fans in Port Moresby and around the country are looking forward to watching it.

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