One of the international rugby league’s newest power teams, Mate Ma’a Tonga will clash against the Australia Kangaroos for the first time ever in a Test match at Mt Smart Stadium.
TEAM FORM GUIDE
Travelling to Auckland to play a big New Zealand forward pack, the Kangaroos were unable to win. There were signs that Australia had not changed in the early encounters, side scoring in the opening minutes, however the Kiwis big men muscled up and ran over a lacklustre Aussie front line that let the home side scrape a two-point victory 26-24.
The Tongans have played once this season: back in June against Samoa in the Pacific Island Test. It was a high-scoring affair – six of the seven tries scored by Tonga were in the first half, winning 38-22.
The Kangaroos have named an unchanged team. Luke Keary is named at five-eighth despite being concussed last week.
Tonga has changed from their mid-year Pacific Test with Solomone Kata and David Fusitu’a replacing Konrad Hurrell and Robert Jennings, Tevita Pangai Jnr and Sika Manu replace Manu Ma’u and Tevita Tatola in the forwards.
Tonga have already brought so much to the International game in a short period of time, with this Test organised due to high demand; it was largely tipped in the 2017 World Cup that Tonga would reach the final against Australia but fell just short against England in the semi-final. The stage is set for a captivating clash that holds many questions to whether this new era for Mate Ma’a Tonga is good enough to beat the Kangaroos. Each team bolsters enormous NRL talent, with many of the greatest players of the season playing each other; coming through the ranks for Tonga are their huge forward pack and with the Aussies just losing to New Zealand, the Kangaroos will be sizing up for another big pack to come at them.
The threat for Australia is once again the lack of cohesion of their new squad; with virtually a whole new lineup from their World Cup-winning side, they are now being tested against experienced International sides. Matchups in the forwards could be the difference in a blockbuster, a premier lock battle between Jason Taumalolo and Jake Trbojevic will dictate a chunk of the outcome in this Test.
Tonga’s lock forward Taumalolo is the best in the business, the Dally M forward had a tumultuous year at club level but with the return to his country’s representative scene, he will leave nothing in the tank. Jason has a huge impact on his side, taking more responsibility in attack with strong carries; he’ll need to have a blinder to beat a star-studded Kangaroos forward pack. The lock forward averaged nearly 200 running metres and over 1700 post contact metres, which sides all over can still not contain; Taumalolo will want to not only be in the thick of the hit-ups and carries over the advantage line, but also not allowing the Australians to contain his running through the line and limiting the Tongans’ go forward. Tonga are heavily relying on the lock to break down the Kangaroos forwards in the middle, while being that offloading and quick play-the-ball player that saw him dominate last year internationally.
Jake Trbojevic is a vital piece to this new Kangaroos side; whether starting or coming off the interchange for extended minutes, the lock has made huge improvements in 2018 which has warranted his spot. Off the bench in the last match against the Kiwis, he stiffened the middle while producing his trademark tackling that had momentum slightly change to Australia’s favour. A fault in his game is the number of penalties or errors that come with being such a skilful middle forward, he will want to make sure this doesn’t reoccur against a strong Tongan side. The combinations that Trbojevic has with the squad is why he plays the majority of the time in the middle compared to others; his Manly ties with halfback Daly Cherry-Evans – as well as brother Tom – have developed a damaging attacking style that has him link with those players effectively. A successful Blues player in the past two Origins, the youngster has also merged plays with fullback James Tedesco, hooker Damien Cook and supporting forwards that makes him a real threat, while having that communication to help the team. If Australia is to win Trbojevic will need to be a centrepiece to most of the plays and defence throughout, his damaging ball running or offloading to backs through the middle is first class. If he sets his game around his defence early and gives the right decisions in passes to halves out of the middle it could well destroy Tonga.
This is the first-ever meeting between Tonga and Australia in International rugby league. Tonga has 16 of 17 players who featured in their World Cup squad.
1. Will Hopoate, 2. Daniel Tupou, 3. Michael Jennings, 4. Solomone Kata, 5. David Fusitu’a, 6. Tuimoala Lolohea, 7. Ata Hingano, 8. Andrew Fifita, 9. Siliva Havili, 10. Siosua Taukaiaho, 11. Tevita Pangai Jr, 12. Sika Manu, 13. Jason Taumalolo
Interchange: 14. Sione Katoa, 15. Addin Fonua-Blake, 16. Joe Ofahengaue, 17. Peni Terepo
Reserves: 18. Konrad Hurrell, 19. Leivaha Pulu, 20. Robert Jennings, 21 Ben Murdoch-Masila
1. James Tedesco, 2. Dane Gagai, 3. Tom Trbojevic, 4. Latrell Mitchell, 5. Valentine Holmes, 6. Luke Keary, 7. Daly Cherry-Evans, 8. David Klemmer, 9. Damien Cook, 10. Jordan McLean, 11. Boyd Cordner (C), 12. Felise Kaufusi, 13. Josh McGuire.
Interchange: 14. Ben Hunt 15. Jake Trbojevic 16. Tyson Frizell 17 Aaron Woods
Reserves: 18. Tyrone Peachey 19. Reagan Campbell-Gillard
THE IMPORTANT DETAILS
Date: Saturday 20th October
Venue: Mt Smart Stadium, New Zealand
Kick-off: 5:45pm AEDT
Referee: Gerrard Sutton
WHO WILL WIN?
This match could be an instant International sensation between two sides that have dominated in the past year. Tonga has a strong pack that is bolstered by many regular representatives that will be experienced enough to get their side over the line if their big outside backs punch out of their end to be in the opposition half as much as possible. The Kangaroos have the task of not losing back-to-back Test matches while containing a flamboyant opposition that will have a large supporter base rooting for them in Auckland, shutting down their skilful forwards while being defensively sound on their edges and not letting their backline players score. It will be a close match that will see the Aussies tested, but with a game under their belt and the return of Keary from concussion the Kangaroos halves will capitalise better on opportunities while their forward pack will add much more punch than their last outing to topple Tonga.
Prediction: Kangaroos by 10