Wales began their triangular autumn international series with defeat away to France in Lens.
David James put Wales ahead with an early try, but that was as good as it got as France hit back with three tries of their own before half-time.
Romaric Bemba, Cyril Stacul and Thomas Bosc all scored in quick succession.
Wales need to beat favourites England in Wrexham next Saturday to keep alive their hopes of reaching the final in Salford on 11 November.
Wales, led for the first time by Craig Kopczak, gave a debut to Wigan reserve Rhys Pugsley on his 18th birthday and silenced the 11,628 crowd at Stade Felix Bollaert by making a dream start, following a knock-on by France skipper Olivier Elima on his own 20-metre line.
Fixtures (all UK times)
Saturday 27 October:
Wales v England at Wrexham, 14:30
Saturday 3 November:
England v France at Craven Park, 14:30
Saturday 11 November:
Final at Salford City Stadium, 17:00
Half-backs Danny Jones and Matty Seamark took full advantage, combining superbly to get James over for the game's first try with just 100 seconds on the clock.
Seamark's conversion made it 6-0 but France went on to dominate the rest of the half and fluffed two glorious try-scoring opportunities before they finally opening their account.
Left winger Clement Soubeyras had a try disallowed for a forward pass from his centre Kevin Larroyer before right winger Mathias Pala dropped the ball from Bosc's high kick with the line at his mercy.
The misses began to look costly until the French struck with three tries in the last nine minutes of the first half.
Substitute Bemba won the race to Bosc's kick to the line to score with his first touch, full-back Stacul took the stand-off's pass and bounced off an injured Christian Roets to add a second and Bosc went over himself following a break by his half-back partner William Barthau.
Bosc added all three conversions to put his side into an 18-6 lead at half-time and France ought to have scored again early in the second half when Pala broke clear but Elima could not take the final pass.
Wales were reduced to 12 men on 50 minutes when Wigan prop Gil Dudson was sin-binned for a late tackle on Barthau that sparked a flurry of punches, and Bosc extended his side's lead with the resultant penalty.
However, the Welsh kept their line intact until Dudson returned for the last quarter and they attacked the French line with venom, although without managing to make another breakthrough.
Wales coach Iestyn Harris:
"We can be proud of our team. They controlled 10 or 15 minutes in the first half and that's where they got their tries.
"When we got our shapes right, we managed to get into the right areas. There are some areas of our game that we need to work on in the next week before England.
"We have spoken about controlling field positions and at times we lacked that, which is something we need to work on. Also we made silly errors but I'm proud of the players and the way they defended for the large majority of the game."
J Baitieri, W Barthau, T Bosc, R Casty, C Stacul, V Duport, D Ferriol, K Larroyer, A Maria, G Mounis, M Pala, E Pelissier, S Raguin, S Mickael, (all Catalans Dragons), C Soubeyras, K Bentley (both Pia), T Gigot (Avignon), M Griffi (Lezignan), O Elima (Bradford).
Elliot Kear (Bradford Bulls), Ben Evans (Warrington Wolves), Mike Channing (London Broncos), Christiaan Roets, Rob Massam, (both North Wales Crusaders), Neil Budworth (Mackay Cutters, Australia), Danny Jones, Craig Moss (both Keighley Cougars), Matt Seamark (Wynnum Manley Seagulls, Australia), David James, Steve Parry, Joe Burke (all South Wales Scorpions), Jordan James (Salford City Reds), Gil Dudson, Ben Flower, Rhodri Lloyd, Rhys Pugsley (all Wigan Warriors), Dan Fleming (Castleford Tigers), Craig Kopczak (unattached).