In a Pacific Nations test match, Mate Ma’a Tonga will take on Toa Samoa at Campbell Town Stadium in Sydney this Saturday evening, featuring plenty of household NRL names.
TEAM FORM GUIDE
The last time both sides faced off was in the 2017 Rugby League World Cup, where Tonga ran out 32-18 winners in their pool B match in Hamilton, New Zealand. Tonga’s work in the forwards propelled them to victory, with seven players having 100 or more running metres. In the backline Michael Jennings chipped in two tries and 200 running metres, continuing his strong form in the tournament to that point. For Samoa Ken Maumalo was the culprit of many Tongan scoring opportunities, making vital mistakes in his own half that helped the opposition. Two late tries for Samoa made the score line more respectable, but they were thoroughly outplayed and a gap ensued in the quality between the two nations that had been, until then, inexistent.
The last game both teams played respectively was at the World Cup playoff stage, with Samoa knocked out in the Quarter finals by eventual winners Australia 46-0. A one sided affair that from pregame right up until kick-off was Australia’s to lose. Tonga on the other hand made it to the semi-final stage and up against England came from a 20-0 deficit to come within two points with only minutes on the clock. However an Andrew Fifita knocked on ultimately sealed Tonga’s fate in the final four, and their dream run finally came to an end.
In 2018 multiple players in each side have showed strong form for their NRL clubs. Robert Jennings has been a standout for the Rabbitohs in their impressive start to the season so far, as well as Isaiah Papalii for the Warriors, who is becoming a constant in their starting forwards. On the other hand, Andrew Fifita has not been at his intimidating finest for the Sharks and could be a ‘wild card’ for Tonga in this game.
Tonga welcome back the likes of Jason Taumalolo, David Fusitu’a and Will Hopoate after a successful World Cup campaign last year, and who all committed to their island nation over New Zealand and Australia.
The rise of Mason Lino makes his (likely) pairing with Anthony Milford in the halves exciting. No Ken Maumalo due to his selection with the Kiwis is in a way a positive for Samoa and Warriors young gun Isaiah Papali’i will make his international debut.
It is likely that Tui Lolohea will start in the halves, and being an experienced ball runner at fullback and on the wings, there will be importance in his ability in breaking the game open. The same can be said for Anthony Milford for Samoa, making for an exciting battle in the halves.
Lolohea has only featured in six games for the Tigers in 2018 with injury battles, but returned in round 12 against the Bulldogs at fullback and has featured in the side since. He has been an important piece to the Tigers pleasing season so far, and features a lot of experience since debuting for the Warriors in 2014.
Milford on the hand has been a constant in the Broncos this year, but failed to fire the way the fans expect. He is known as one of the more exciting players in the game, and will be able to focus on his traditional play style as a ball running half, with Mason Lino carrying the playmaking load in the halves.
Although Tonga has won the most recent matchup, Samoa has taken out four of the past six encounters between both sides since 2008.
Tonga: Andrew Fifita, Addin Fonua-Blake, Siliva Havili, Ata Hingano, Will Hopoate, Konrad Hurrell, Michael Jennings, Robert Jennings, Sione Katoa, Tuimoala Lolohea, Manu Ma’u, Joe Ofahengaue, Junior Tatola, Jason Taumalolo, Sio Siua Taukeiaho, Peni Terepo, Daniel Tupou
Samoa: Bunty Afoa, Josh Aloiai, Michael Chee Kam, Christian Crichton, James Gavet, Pita Godinet, Sam Kasiano, Tim Lafai, Joey Leilua, Luciano Leilua, Mason Lino, Dunamis Lui, Tyrone May, Anthony Milford, Isaiah Papali’i, Joseph Paulo, Ligi Sao, Jorge Taufua
THE IMPORTANT DETAILS
Date: Saturday June 22, 2018
Venue: Campbelltown Stadium, Sydney
Kickoff: 7:10pm (AEST)
Match Referee: Grant Atkins
WHO WILL WIN?
Much like the World Cup last year, Tonga’s squad boasts a bucket load of talent and depth in comparison. Their forwards and outside backs stand high and above that of Samoa, but with Mason Lino’s great form giving Samoa the stronger halves pairing, that could be a potential building block if they can get off to a strong start and take control. Ultimately the battle in the middle will overwhelm Samoa, and may well decide the contest. Tonga by 12.