New Zealand and Tonga will battle it out on Saturday night at Waikato Stadium in Hamilton. The much anticipated match will be an explosive performance from both sides as the tension between the two camps will finally come to a head. The winner will be named first in Pool B and the loser will be second – either way both teams have a secured spot in the quarter-finals.
After Jason Taumalolo made his shock announcement to swap alliances from the Kiwis to Tonga only weeks out from the Rugby League World Cup, there has been a crazy amount of hype leading up to the match where the Cowboys forward will have to face his ex-teammates in what is hoped to be a fiery encounter.
Despite all of this, the two camps are insisting there are no hard feelings. Former Kiwis player Sam Moa spoke to media on Tuesday, “I think there was a bit of tension there, you can’t lie about it, at the start”. He then went on to say, “But I think we’re well and truly past it, four or five weeks on. I think the boys who have defected have certainly moved past it, along with their families, and us as team-mates, and I’m sure [Kiwis coach] David Kidwell and the boys in the New Zealand side, selectors and fans have also moved past it.”
The Kiwis have made a shock switch in the halves for their clash against Tonga as Kodi Nikorima will be replacing Te Maire Martin. Coach David Kidwell defended his decision by saying he believes Nikorima can direct the team along with Shaun Johnson while having that extra bit of X-factor and confidence compared to the young Cowboys half.
Tonga have also made one change to their squad as the Warriors centre Solomone Kata has been ruled out of the tournament due to breaking his foot in the 32-18 win against Samoa last weekend. Konrad Hurrell will be replacing Kata after having played in Tonga’s first-up 50-4 win over Scotland.
The key battle for this must-watch game is going to be whether the Kiwis can withhold Tonga’s brute force and physicality in the early stages of the match. There’s no denying Tonga has size and strength on their side which they will be taking advantage of in hopes to dominate the game early on and get as many points on the board before the Kiwis have a chance to get back on their feet. I believe the Kiwis have got the individual brilliance and talent behind them to overcome Tonga’s physicality.
After observing both teams style of play this Rugby League World Cup, it is evident Tonga will rely heavily on their perceived superiority in their forward pack to carry them over the line which will only last for so long as the Kiwis will dominate the game due to pure skill and smart game play.
New Zealand v Tonga at Waikato Stadium, Hamilton, 5pm (NZ)
New Zealand squad: 1 Roger Tuivasa-Sheck 2 Dallin Watene-Zelezniak 3 Dean Whare 4 Brad Takairangi 5 Jordan Rapana 6 Kodi Nikorima 7 Shaun Johnson 8 Martin Taupau 9 Thomas Leuluai 10 Jared Waerea-Hargreaves 11 Simon Mannering 12 Joseph Tapine 13 Adam Blair 14 Nelson Asofa-Solomona 15 Russell Packer 16 Isaac Liu 17 Danny Levi 18 Kenny Bromwich 19 Te Maire Martin 20 Elijah Taylor 21 Peta Hiku
Tonga squad: 1 William Hopoate 2 Daniel Tupou 3 Michael Jennings 4 Konrad Hurrell 5 David Fusitua 6 Tuimoala Lolohea 7 Mafoa’aeata Hingano 8 Andrew Fifita 9 Sione Katoa 10 Sio Siua Taukeiaho 11 Manu Ma’u 12 Sika Manu (c) 13 Jason Taumalolo 14 Siliva Havili 15 Sam Moa 16 Peni Terepo 17 Ben Murdoch-Masila 18 Mahe Fonua 19 Manu Vatuvei 20 Ukuma Ta’ai 21 Tevita Pangai Junior
Referee: Gerard Sutton