Andrew Fifita missing, Tongan 9s in crisis

The Cook Islands have stunned Tonga on the opening night of rugby league's World Cup Nines in Sydney
The Cook Islands have stunned Tonga on the opening night of rugby league's World Cup Nines in Sydney

Tonga's World Cup Nines rugby league campaign is in disarray after being stunned 30-7 by the Cook Islands, with Andrew Fifita sitting out their tournament opener.

Considered the most likely of the second-tier nations to go deep in the competition, the star-studded Tongans were barely in the contest on Friday night against the minnows.

The Pacific powerhouse didn't play Fifita for the opening game, and were left to regret it after their 621 games of NRL experience amounted to little against the Cook Islands.

In comparison, just four of the Kukis had 350 games between them, headlined by Parramatta players Brad Takairangi and Tepai Moeroa.

The underdogs ran in the opening six tries of the match as Tonga failed to land a blow.

Only the top-ranked team from Pool C will qualify for the semi-finals and, even if Tonga win their next two games against Fiji and Samoa, their for-and-against will likely hurt them.

Tongan players ignored waiting media after the boilover, and an official confirmed Fifta missed as part of a rotation.

The upset comes after Tonga's players had boycotted in the lead-up to the event, with stars Fifita and Jason Taumalolo leading a public battle against the country's now-suspended rugby league board.

Junior Kiwi Kayal Iro - the son of former Kiwis star Kevin and nephew of coach Tony - scored a double for the Cook Islands, including one off a wicked bounce from a Steven Marsters chip kick.

At one point, Queensland Cup winger Paul Ulberg fended off Tongan NRL powerhouse Taumalolo to cross in a moment that encapsulated the gravity of the upset.

Tonga must win both games on Saturday by big margins to progress to the finals, and hope other results go their way.

Samoa are favourites to advance from the tough Pool C, after also shocking Fiji 32-17 at Bankwest Stadium.

Australian Associated Press