Off the back of one of the greatest moments in their sporting history, Tonga take on Lebanon at Christchurch Stadium in an elimination showdown on Saturday. Lebanon have already outperformed expectations and Tonga need to back up their stunning comeback last week against New Zealand.
Lebanon come into this one with respectable losses against England and Australia after the historic win against France in round one. Tonga took top spot in Pool B with a comeback against New Zealand after thrashing Scotland and Samoa in rounds one and two. This will be the first meeting between the two sides and it’s set to be a cracker.
Tonga welcome back Michael Jennings along with the experienced Sam Moa while Peni Terepo and Mahe Fonua drop out. Lebanon have major injury worries and Chris Saab drops out onto an extended bench with a concussion. Robbie Farah, Michael Lichaa, and Mitchell Moses are all included in the 17 despite injury worries. Tonga maintain their gargantuan pack with top metre makers Sio Siua Taukeiaho (558m), Jason Taumalolo (540), and Andrew Fifita (454) starting through the middle, while Lebanon go with Alex Twal and Tim Mannah.
Lebanon were only 10-0 down after 50 minutes against Australia and proved that they can go toe-to-toe with the world’s best for the majority of a game, however an 80-minute performance has eluded them since the vital win against France. Tonga look the most dangerous team in the competition in attack but will need to tighten up their defence to avoid a slip up against the Cedars.
The return of their top try scorer Michael Jennings is a massive plus for Tonga; working off the back of a monstrous pack, he could be the key to blowing Lebanon away. Lebanon keep their NRL spine and seem to be able to get into and stay in the grind; they’ll need to provide their best to get anywhere near matching Tonga’s big three. They won’t get any rest either with Ben Murdoch-Masila, Tevita Pangai Junior and Sam Moa coming off the bench.
Lebanon have far outperformed expectations at this Rugby League World Cup but it looks as though their journey ends here. If they want to provide the biggest World Cup shock this year, they’ll need to front up to the Tongan metre eaters and play with a large amount of flair in attack, with Mitchell Moses the man who can make a difference.
Tonga will need to carry the momentum from their emphatic New Zealand comeback, but there’s no doubt the emotional energy used last week will have left the players slightly drained. Tonga are one of the only sides in this tournament that has the means to blow teams out of the water and if they do get on top – which they most probably will – then they’ll impose a wide margin on the injury-ravaged Cedars.
Tonga by 26+.
Tonga have won their last five World Cup matches and have scored 28+ in their last three games. Lebanon – by contrast – have made the most amount of tackles so far in this World Cup (989) and are unbeaten in four of their last six matches.
Tonga: Will Hopoate, Daniel Tupou, Michael Jennings, Konrad Hurrell, David Fusitu’a, Tuimoala Lolohea, Ata Hingano, Andrew Fifita, Sione Katoa, Sio Siua Taukeiaho, Manu Ma’u, Sika Manu, Jason Taumalolo, Siliva Havili, Sam Moa, Tevita Pangai Junior, Ben Murdoch-Masila.
Lebanon: Anthony Layoun, Travis Robinson, James Elias, Adam Doueihi, Abbas Miski, Mitchell Moses, Robbie Farah, Tim Mannah, Michael Lichaa, Alex Twal, Nick Kassis, Ahmad Ellaz, Jamie Clark, Mitchell Mamary, Ray Moujalli, Elias Sukkar, Jason Wehbe.
Match officials: Referee: Gerard Sutton. Touch judges: Robert Hicks and Dave Munro. Video referee: Ashley Klein.
Televised: 7Mate – live coverage Saturday from 3pm.