Scotland and Tonga will both kick off their 2017 Rugby League World Cup campaign on Sunday the 29th of October, with a match-up at Barlow Stadium in Cairns at 5:15 pm AEDT. The game sees Scotland enter with a squad full of exciting youth, and Tonga boasting an impressive starting team while even leaving some big names out of the starting 17. Even though both sides are in a pool where one win gets you into the quarterfinals, the game is as important as can be.
Scotland and Tonga are both relatively newcomers to the World Cup compared to the big guns, with Tonga appearing since 1995. Scotland’s first appearance came in 2003, only eight years after they were established, and gained an impressive quarter final qualification in 2013. Ranking fourth in the world after some pleasing results of late, Scotland are entering the tournament with a huge amount of confidence. Regardless of their 11th ranking, Tonga’s squad screams out class and grunt, with a host of big names from the NRL enlisting for the country.
Entering the tournament both sides had differing results a week ago in pre-tournament matches. Tonga took down Italy 16-6 in Cairns, a game filled with mistakes. Scotland on the other hand Scotland fell to the hands of the New South Wale U23 Country side 50-14 in Ballina, an unfortunate drubbing that could have impacts on their mindset entering Sunday’s game.
Scotland and Tonga have only faced twice before, both being in the pool stage of the World Cup. In 2008 Tonga demolished the Scots 48-0 in the 7th place playoff. However Scotland’s tremendous 2013 World Cup run into the Quarter Finals was kicked off by a 26-24 result over Tonga, with Scotland racing out to a 20-4 lead at halftime.
Injuries have marred what could have been a better looking side for Scotland coming into the World Cup. Pete Wallace, Lachlan Coote, Kane Linnett and Euan Aitken, who all have international experience for the Bravehearts, have succumb to injuries and will not take part in the tournament leaving Scotland with a very young and inexperienced side. Tonga on the other hand enters the tournament with a healthy side, and talent spread across the entire roster.
Scotland struggle to boast a team with experience and class given the in-actives, nevertheless Danny Brough still remains the side’s most important player. The Huddersfield veteran has enjoyed a lot of success in the Super League, with two Albert Goldthorpe Medals and a Man of Steel Award. A halves pairing with Peter Wallace could have caused serious havoc, but Bough will have to carry the load on his own. I said a little while ago that Tuimoala Lolohea had to up his game significantly for this tournament. Playing for the Warriors for periods in the halves, and so with the Tigers in 2017, Lolohea has a bucket load of experience as a first receiving facilitator in a team. What is arguably Tonga’s easiest game against the Bravehearts; it is the perfect foundation for his form to lift.
It is a real shame that Scotland cannot bring more talent into the side, one that miraculously drew with New Zealand in the Four Nations last year. Results since 2013 have been pleasing for Scotland, but they could be in for a tough tournament. Tonga’s forward pack will be too good, and the strength of their outside backs should keep the Scottish defence on their toes. A game that should show the potential that Tonga has to show. Tonga by 16.
Scotland 21-man squad: 1 Lewis Tierney, 2 Matthew Russell, 3 Ben Hellewel, 4 Lachlan Stein, 5 Will Oakes, 6 Danny Brough (c), 7 Danny Addy, 8 Luke Douglas 9 Kane Bentley, 10 Ben Kavanagh, 11 Frankie Mariano, 12 Dale Ferguson, 13 James Bell, 14 Callum Phillips, 15 Andrew Bentley, 16 Sam Brooks, 17 Johnny Walker, 18 Alex Walker, 19 Jarred Anderson, 20 Kieran Moran, 21 Brandan Wilkinson
Tonga 21-man squad: 1. Will Hopoate, 2. Daniel Tupou, 3. Michael Jennings, 4. Konrad Hurrell, 5. Manu Vatuvei, 6. Tuimoala Lolohea, 7. Ata Hingano, 8. Andrew Fifita, 9. Siliva Havilli, 10. Sio Siua Taukieaho, 11. Manu Ma’u, 12. Sika Manu (C), 13. Jason Taumalolo. Interchange: 14. Sione Katoa, 15. Sam Moa, 16. Peni Terepo, 17. Ben Murdoch-Masila, 18. Joe Ofahengaue, 19. Solomone Kata, 20. David Fusitu’a, 21. Samisoni Langi