One of the best night’s of rugby league for the year is on Saturday night as the Pacific Tests double header becomes a Triple Treat in 2017.

The first of the matches sees the Cook Islands make their first appearance in the International Weekend fixtures, and their task is a tough one having to take on the PNG Kumuls.

The PNG side is overflowing with players from the Intrust Super Cup side PNG Hunters, and even most of the players who aren’t, have played for the Hunters at some stage. In fact it is just three with Luke Page (Burleigh), Tommy Butterfield (Easts) and Richard Pandia (Ipswich) not having anything to do with the Hunters.

Given the Hunters are currently joint leaders of the Intrust Super Cup, you could argue that makes the Kumuls in form too, but when these Pacific nations meet, form guide isn’t always the most important thing.

Cook Islands will rely heavily on the experience of Bronco Alex Glenn with a side made up from various players from the Intrust competitions, but will have a point to prove after missing out on qualifying for rugby league World Cup after losing a single play off game to Lebanon earlier in the year. Beating one of the hosts of the upcoming tournament will prove they should be included next time.

A PNG win will keep most of their 7 million strong population happy, and perhaps provide a springboard into a strong end to the year for both the Hunters in the Intrust Super Cup and Kumuls at the World Cup.

LAST TIME OUT

The last match between these two sides came in 2009 when the Kumuls ran out 42-14 victors. In the four matches played between these sides since the Cook Islands first head to head with PNG in 1997, Papua New Guinea have won all encounters easily.

In last year’s Pacific Test series, PNG played Fiji and the Kumuls actually won their first International on foreign soil. Most of those players are returning for this year’s instalment against the Cook Islands.

KEY BATTLES

A lot will depend on if the most experienced player on the field and captain – Alex Glenn – will be able to inspire his Cook Islands team mates against the intensity of the Kumuls pack. Glenn will likely play in the second row, and the Kumuls captain Rod Griffin will be a tough equivalent opponent. He was one of PNG’s best against Fiji last year, and it is some surprise he hasn’t been given a chance with either the Tigers last year or the Bulldogs this year. Both should be capable of 80 minutes so they’ll have plenty of time to put their authority on the game.

A shame we can’t be talking of Glenn v Willie Minoga. The Kumuls interchange player was replaced during the week after he was found guilty of a dangerous throw for the Hunters and suspended for two games. It was the one chance to finally prove all my constant praise of the PNG forward is well justified.

PREDICTION

The advantage of having so many players from the one side that play regularly will prove the difference in this Pacific Test Match. And that side who is supplying the majority of the players – PNG Hunters – are in some decent form. They beat table topping Redcliffe and thrashed the reigning premiers Burleigh 42-6 in their last two matches. One of Burleigh’s best Luke Page is playing for the Kumuls too, providing even more firepower.

Kumuls by 16.

SQUADS

Kumuls: Stargroth Amean (Hunters), Justin Olam (Melbourne Storm), Israel Eliab (Hunters), Thompson Teteh (Redcliffe Dolphins), Alex Wera (Hunters), Ase Boas (Hunters), Watson Boas (Hunters), Henry Wan (Hunters), Wartovo Puara (Hunters), Luke Page (Burleigh Bears), Rhys Martin (Canterbury Bulldogs), Rod Griffin (Canterbury Bulldogs), Stanton Albert (Hunters). Interchange: Tommy Butterfield (Easts Tigers), Wellington Albert (Hunters), Nixon Put (Hunters), Richard Pandia (Ipswich Jets)

Cook Islands: (from) Alex Glenn (Brisbane Broncos), Makahesi Makatoa (Canberra Raiders), Reubenn Rennie (Mounties), Isaac John (Mounties), Geoff Daniela (St Marys), Sam Mataora (Newcastle Knights), Marata Niukore (Parramatta Eels), Moses Noovao-McGreal (Sunshine Coast), Reuben Porter (Sydney Roosters), Kobe Tararo (Titans), Ezra Howe Jnr (Tweed Heads), Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad (Warriors), Uiti Baker (West Newcastle), Esan Marsters (Wests Tigers), Aaron Teroi (Newcastle Thunder UK)