Canada Ravens lose opener to Papua New Guinea at Rugby League World Cup

LEEDS, United Kingdom — The Canada Ravens lost their opener at the Women's Rugby League World Cup on Tuesday as Papua New Guinea scored 26 second-half points en route to a 34-12 victory.

The Canadian women, who beat PNG at the 2017 tournament for their first-ever international win, acquitted themselves well but paid for unforced errors. And the Ravens had no answers as the Orchids grew in confidence and flair in the second half.

Tries on either side of halftime by elusive fullback Martha Molowia proved to be the difference for PNG after Canada pulled ahead for a 6-4 lead.

Petra Woods and Megan Pakulis scored tries for Canada, which trailed 8-6 at the half. Dani Franada kicked two conversions.

Shellie Long, Ua Ravu, Essay Banu, Belinda Gwasamun and Anika Butler also scored tries for Papua New Guinea. Emily Veivers kicked two conversions and Lilah Malabag added another as the Orchids recorded their first-ever World Cup win.

In 2017, the Canadians finished joint-third with England at the six-country competition after losing 58-6 to eventual champion Australia in the semifinal.

The World Cup, now at eight women's teams with the addition of France and Brazil, was slated to start in October 2021 but was postponed due to the pandemic.

Rugby league is a different code than rugby union, the more widely played version of the game which is currently holding its own Women's World Cup in New Zealand.

Rugby league has 13 players per side, as opposed to 15 for rugby union, and is played primarily in Australia, England and New Zealand. In rugby league, play stops when the ball-carrier is tackled. The team in possession of the ball has six attempts to go down field with teams usually kicking for field position on the sixth attempt if they don't score.

Tries in rugby league are worth four points, compared to five in rugby union.

Canada and Papua New Guinea proved to be a tight contest, unlike England's 72-4 blowout win over Brazil in the earlier game at Headingley Stadium.

Canada faces England on Saturday in Wigan before wrapping up pool play Nov. 9 against Brazil in Leeds.

Canada is currently ranked sixth in the world compared to No. 4 for Papua New Guinea. But the rankings mean little considering the Canadians play so rarely. Apart from a few camps earlier this year and a trials match in B.C. in September, the Ravens have been largely inactive since a 2019 tour of Serbia.

England is ranked third and Brazil 17th.

The men's Rugby League World Cup is also underway in England, as is the wheelchair World Cup. Canada is not entered in those competitions.

The Canadian women wore gold and white while the Orchids were in red and black.

Canada's defence was up to the task early with Papua New Guinea not helping its cause with several handling errors in attack. Mistakes also cost the Ravens when they got close to the Orchids' try-line.

A handling error by Natalie Tam set the stage for Papua Guinea's first try with Long bulling her way over in the 25th minute for a 4-0 lead.

Canada went ahead in the 30th minute when Woods touched down a perfectly weighted grubber kick by Sab McDaid, who was steamrollered by a Papua New Guinea tackler after booting the ball. PNG defender Lisa Marie Alu had a chance to ground the ball herself but flubbed the attempt and Woods pounced on the ball for the try, which survived video review.

Frananda was good on a difficult conversion from the touchline for a 6-4 Canada lead.

Molowia put PNG back in front with a fine solo effort down the left flank, reaching behind to pull in a wayward pass before beating three Canadian defenders and lunging to touch the ball down in the corner for an 8-6 lead.

PNG took advantage of a short kickoff by Canada to open the second half. The ball was sent out to Molowia, who cut through the Canadian defence and raced 50 metres for a converted try and 14-6 lead in the 41st minute.

Papua New Guinea began to move the ball around, finding more gaps in Canada's defence. And Ravu went over from close-range from dummy half in the 47th minute up the lead to 18-6.

Canada laid siege to the PNG try-line only to see a handling error end the threat. At the other end, a free-flowing Papua New Guinea attack that looked to produce a highlight-reel try was blown dead for a forward pass.

Pakulis crashed over under the posts in the 60th minute, dragging wo defenders with her, after PNG was penalized for a high tackle. Frananda's conversion cut the PNG lead to 18-12.

The Orchids, taking advantage of Canada inability to cleanly field a kick, responded with Banu's rampaging run from close range for a converted try that made it 24-12. Gwasamun and Butler padded the lead with tries in the 76th and 78th minute.

Forwards Liz Steele and Maddy Aberg made some big runs for the Ravens in a punishing physical contest.

The Canadian matchday squad featured five veterans of the 2017 tournament. Steele, McDaid and Pakulis were in the starting 13 while Jade Menin and Tam were on the interchange bench.

The Canadian starters also included veteran prop Laura Mariu, who represented New Zealand at the last five World Cups and captained the Kiwi Ferns in a 50-4 win over Canada at the 2017 tournament . She is eligible to represent Canada via her Canadian mother.

Sixteen of Papua New Guinea's extended 34-woman World Cup squad are Australian-based.

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 1, 2022

The Canadian Press