After contrasting starts to their respective campaigns Fiji and Wales will lock horns for the first time at a Rugby League World Cup this Sunday Night in Townsville. Fiji will feel right at home after playing their first match last week at the venue, whilst Wales will hope for a better share of the crowd support after last weeks match in Port Moresby against PNG.
Fiji started their World Cup off in winning fashion after running riot over USA Hawks 58 – 12 thanks mainly to their ‘stat studded’ back line. The Fijian right side combination of Taane Milne and Suli Vunivalu caused the most havoc with both crossing for doubles along with Captain Kevin Naiqama, whilst star five-eighth Jarryd Hayne was also heavily involved. The Bati didn’t come through the match unscathed losing Kane Evans with a broken wrist forcing coach Mick Potter to make just the one change with Eloni Vunakece moving to the starting lineup and Junior Roqica coming onto the bench.
Wales never looked like leaving Port Moresby with anything other than bruised bodies and egos after being hammered by PNG 50 – 6 at the National Stadium. It was hard not to feel sorry for the Welsh playing in conditions so foreign to them in the heat of a late October afternoon in Port Moresby, but the Kumuls showed no mercy racking up a half a century before Wales scored through Regan Grace on fulltime. Wales came out of the game with plenty of bumps and a few concussions which has forced them into making no less than five changes for this match.
Wales will again face a similar challenge against the Bati after struggling to come to terms with the physicality and athleticism of the Kumuls this will be a good test to see whether the Dragons have learnt anything from the harsh lesson dealt to them. The Bati are arguably more physical and more athletic than PNG with an all NRL back line Wales will have to make sure not to hand over cheap and give away cheap penalties again otherwise the likes of Vunivalu and Milne will hurt them.
Wales can take some tips from Fiji’s previous game where the Hawks opened up the Bati on the edges after compiling some repeat sets and attacking field position, the longer Wales can stay in the game and control possession the likelihood of an upset will increase. For the Bati they’ll know if they play to their potential the Welsh won’t get close to them so it’s all about keeping the troops focused for Coach Potter, who will also be ‘praying’ to get through the game without any more injuries.
In a match that looks to be a massive ‘mismatch’ on paper it’s hard to find where the Dragons can gain an upper hand on the field. The Welsh will look to their experienced duo of Craig Kopszak and Phil Joseph in the front row to lead from the front against a ‘weakened’ Bati engine room. After losing Regan Campbell Gillard and Daniel Saifiti before the tournament kicked off Fiji have now also lost Kane Evans and Korbin Sims to leave the Fijians a bit thin up front. Wales will need to dominate the middle exchanges in order to control field position and possession which will be the key to victory.
If Fiji play anywhere near their full potential it could be a long night for the Dragons who will struggle to contain the Bati back line. Fiji will know that another big win will put them in the box seat to qualify for the knockout stages whilst Wales know they must win if they want any chance to progress.
Fiji by 30
Fiji v Wales at Townsville Stadium, Townsville, 7:30pm(AEDT) Sunday
Fiji 21 man squad:
1 Kevin Naiqama (C) 2 Suliasi Vunivalu 3 Taane Milne 4 Akuila Uate 5 Marcelo Montoya 6 Jarryd Hayne 7 Henry Raiwalui 8 Ashton Sims 9 Apisai Koroisau 10 Eloni Vunakece 11 Viliame Kikau 12 Brayden Wiliame 13 Tui Kamikamica 14 Joe Lovodua 15 Jacob Saifiti 16 Junior Roqica 17 Ben Nakubuwai 18 James Storer 19 Pio Seci 20 Salesi Faingaa 21 Sitiveni Moceidreke
Wales 21 man squad:
1 Elliot Kear 2 Rhys Williams 3 Michael Channing 4 Christiaan Roets 5 Regan Grace 6 Courtney Davies 7 Danny Ansell 8 Craig Kopczak (C) 9 Steve Parry 10 Philip Joseph 11 Rhodri Lloyd 12 Joe Burke 13 Morgan Knowles 14 Matty Fozard 15 Matthew Barron 16 Ben Evans 17 Dalton Grant 18 Josh Ralph 19 Ben Morris 20 Gavin Bennion 21 Andrew Gay