Wales coach John Kear has hailed his players and their “superb” effort in their World Cup encounter against the Cook Islands.
The Dragons went agonisingly close to breaking their tournament duck, going down 18-12 to the Kukis in a thrilling match at Leigh.
An emotional Kear said after the game: “It’s pretty difficult, there’s a lot of emotion involved. We were in there right at the end, we probably had half a chance at the end but we just didn’t manage to take it.
“They really worked our middles over in the second half.
“They played very direct and we didn’t control their offloads well enough in the second half and ultimately that’s what’s put paid to us.
“I think the game plan worked well throughout but we couldn’t get field position in the second half as much as we did in the first half.
“I thought they upped their game in the second half, they played a more conservative game. Looking to buy field position and complete, and ultimately it worked for them.”
Wales led 6-0 early and then took a 12-8 lead into half-time. The Cook Islands went ahead 18-12 thanks to two tries in the second half, but the Dragons had a chance to tie the game up with a score in the last set, although ultimately couldn’t get over the line.
“You’re out there having played 79 minutes, 40-odd seconds and your mind’s in a washing machine,” Kear admitted.
“It’s difficult to have clarity in that situation. But there was half a chance there.
“But I’m immensely proud of them and thought the effort was absolutely superb.”
The Welsh only have a handful of Super League players, with most of their squad plying their trade in the Championship and League 1.
Kear believes his players have shown they can do the business at a higher level.
“I think so but that’s for other people to decide as well,” the coach said.
“I thought there was some really good individual performances, but the thing that please me the most was it was a collective performance as well.”