The first of the Pacific Test Invitational double-headers kicks off between the PNG Kumuls and Bati of Fiji kicks off at Campbelltown, with the Kumuls looking to upset Fiji again after defeating them in 2016 in the same series.
TEAM FORM GUIDE
The Kumuls did a reasonable job at the World Cup last year, making the quarter finals where they put up a good fight but were eventually outclassed by England. They did have some very strong wins at home in Port Moresby, and were probably riding the wave of the PNG Hunters success in the Intrust Super Cup, as the majority of the side came from the Hunters and is coached by Hunters boss Michael Marum.
Fiji were one of the revelations of the 2017 Rugby League World Cup. They impressed during the group stages, and then proceeded to knock out New Zealand 4-2 to reach the semi finals. Of course that dream ended in the reality of a Valentine Holmes six try cyclone that saw them defeated 54-6, but they made their point with Jarryd Hayne playing his best for the 2017 season, and Viliame Kikau emerging as a genuine top class forward.
Not a lot of NRL experience, but what there is could be considered quality. Lachlan Lam gets the nod for five eighth after impressing in his World Cup appearance, with usual number 6, Ase Boas starting on the bench on his recovery from sickness. Of course no PNG side would be complete without fan favourite, Willie Minoga who lines up in the centres, there was the initial worry that we would only be 18th man. James Segeyaro gets the nod for hooker, a position of which they could have picked another couple of players and been well represented.
Jarryd Hayne clocks up another position for 2018 with selection at halfback for Fiji, and it is a very strong backline brimming of NRL talent. Akuila Uate is named in the centres, where he was an unlikely strike weapon in that position in the recent World Cup. One of their big men, and big stars of the World Cup – Viliame Kikau is out injured after being diagnosed with a grade one MCL tear against the Raiders two weeks ago.
This is the second meeting of the Kumuls and Fiji, and the record is locked at one a piece. PNG just got the better of Fiji in the 2016 Pacific Cup match, a reverse of the result of the previous year in the same competition where Fiji did it reasonably comfortably. Both games featured one massive tackle that still sticks in the memory, Marika Koroibete’s on Willie Minoga in 2015, and a big hit from unlikely source in David Mead in 2016.
One key player is obvious, one of the biggest names in rugby league in Jarryd Hayne. This time last year he was part of the NSW Blues side, and finds himself in 2018 playing for Fiji the night before the big Origin Game Two in Sydney. His 2018 return to the Eels has been underwhelming, so maybe this weekend’s return to the colours of Fiji will spark his season into life. He will be a key as the main conductor of a backline which looks far superior to the Kumuls on paper, and their biggest head to head advantage.
A key battle will be in the forwards like most internationals, and what the Kumuls lack in height they more than make up for in toughness and hard work, the shining example of this is Rod Griffin, who has been great since returning to the Intrust Super Cup with Townsville this season. Rhyse Martin too, was one of the best in the Rugby League World Cup, and did well on his NRL debut earlier in the season.. Prop Luke Page is always a man to watch, as he fires up for any game, let alone an International.
Fiji have some big men in their engine room like Kane Evans, Tui Kamikamica and Junior Salesi Fainga, all of whom currently plying their trade in the second tier Intrust Super competitions. But will they be able to last against the workhorse Kumuls pack, that is a big question for Saturday’s test.
Hooker is one position that PNG hold the NRL experience advantage, with two quality options in James Segeyaro and Kurt Baptiste.
And any side is better off with Willie Minoga.
Papua New Guinea’s win over Fiji in 2016 was their first win away from Papua New Guinea against any nation.
Papua New Guinea: 1 Justin Olam, 2 Junior Rau, 3 Thompson Teteh, 4 Willie Minoga, 5 Richard Pandia, 6 Lachlan Lam, 7 Watson Boas, 8 Stanton Albert, 9 James Segeyaro (c), 10 Luke Page, 11 Rhyse Martin, 12 Nixon Putt, 13 Rod Griffin
Interchange: 14 Kurt Baptiste, 15 Rhadley Brawa, 16 Enock Maki, 17 Ase Boas
Reserve: 18 Nene Macdonald
Fiji: 1 Kevin Naiqama (c), 2 Suliasi Vunivalu, 3 Akuila Uate, 4 Tyrone Phillips, 5 Marcelo Montoya, 6 Henry Raiwalui, 7 Jarryd Hayne, 8 Kane Evans, 9 Joe Lovodua, 10 Tui Kamikamica, 11 King Vuniyayawa, 12 Junior Salesi Fainga, 13 Jayson Bukuya
Interchange: 14 Eloni Vunakece, 15 Pio Seci, 16 Sitiveni Moceidreke, 17 Pio Sokobalavu.
Reserves: 18 Mikaele Ravalawa, 19 Junior Roqica
THE IMPORTANT DETAILS
Date: Saturday 23rd June
Venue: Campbelltown Stadium