Shannon Meyer previews the upcoming Pacific Test between the Papua New Guinea Kumuls and Samoa at Leichhardt Oval.
TEAM FORM GUIDE
Papua New Guinea
Papua New Guinea have started to make some real inroads into the International game, and some of that must be attributed to the PNG Hunters’ success in the Queensland Intrust Super Cup. They were ranked 16th before the 2017 World Cup, but have climbed to 10th since. Their recent record during the Pacific Tests has been good too, winning their last three games. The win against the lower-ranked Cook Islands in 2017 was reasonably easy, but the two wins over Fiji were hard-earned. PNG were especially excellent against Fiji last year where they won 26-14 against a side featuring Jarryd Hayne.
Samoa were ranked fifth going into the 2017 World Cup, but were quite disappointing, scraping into the knockout stage with just a draw to Scotland from their three pool games. Samoa then lost 46-0 to Australia in the quarter final. They are now sixth, and have lost their last two Pacific Tests to England and Tonga
Papua New Guinea
The Kumuls have named as strong a side as they can with their Australian-based players. Sadly for the Kumuls, the 2018 off-season saw a lot of the premiership-winning 2017 Hunters team depart for various UK Championship sides. And they could really do with a Willie Minoga or Watson Boas.
There is some NRL experience in James Segeyaro and Kurt Baptiste – which has the hooker position covered nicely – and in Rhyse Martin they have one of the breakthrough players of 2018, who is continuing his fine work from the 2017 World Cup. There are also players desperate to break into their NRL sides, like try scoring machine Justin Olam, and Lachlan Lam.
One player to keep an eye on is Xavier Coates, who recently starred for the Queensland under 20 Origin side, and could make his International debut after just a handful of games in the Intrust Super Cup.
PNG Kumuls squad: Edene Gabbie (Wynnum-Manly), Edwin Epape (Wynnum-Manly), Enock Maki (PNG Hunters), James Segeyaro (Brisbane Broncos), Junior Rau (PNG Hunters), Justin Olam (Melbourne Storm/Sunshine Coast Falcons), Kurt Baptiste (North Queensland Cowboys), Kyle Laybutt (North Queensland Cowboys), Lachlan Lam (Sydney Roosters), Luke Page (Burleigh Bears), Moses Meninga (PNG Hunters), Nixon Putt (Norths Devils), Rhadley Brawa (Wynnum-Manly), Rhyse Martin (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs), Stanton Albert (PNG Hunters), Terry Wapi (PNG Hunters), Xavier Coates (Brisbane Broncos), Zev John (Melbourne Storm).
Samoa looks strong with Anthony Milford selected, and his fellow Bronco Jamayne Isaako and Manly prop Martin Taupau pledging their futures to Samoa has only increased their strength. Both are quite a coup for a side already brimming with NRL talent.
There’s no other superstars of the 2019 NRL season, but there is a strong bunch of solid NRL performers, who at their best will make life very difficult for PNG. Michael Chee Kam has been in great form for the Tigers, and Junior Paulo will be hard to contain. As will most of their impressive NRL-strength forward pack. Jorge Taufua has been great for Manly since returning from injury.
Anthony Milford (c – Brisbane Broncos), Josh Aloiai (Wests Tigers), Fa’amanu Brown (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs), Michael Chee Kam (Wests Tigers), Herman Ese’ese (Newcastle Knights), Raymond Faitala-Mariner (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs), James Gavet (Newcastle Knights), Hymel Hunt (Newcastle Knights), Jamayne Isaako (Brisbane Broncos), Mason Lino (Newcastle Knights), Jarome Luai (Penrith Panthers), David Nofoaluma (Wests Tigers), Junior Paulo (Parramatta Eels), Marion Seve (Melbourne Storm), Jaydn Su’A (Brisbane Broncos), Jorge Taufua (Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles), Martin Taupau (Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles), Chanel Harris-Tavita )New Zealand Warriors).
HEAD TO HEAD
There has only been the one head-to-head between these two Pacific nations, with Samoa winning 38-4 in the 2013 World Cup in England, leading 28-0 at half time. But that was the year before the PNG Hunters entered the Queensland Cup, which has seen PNG start to shine on the International stage.
The key battle is the massive difference in NRL experience between the two sides, a problem the Kumuls face when they play most of the their International games. Samoa’s side features all 17 players playing in the NRL, while the Kumuls – outside of Rhyse Martin – have just a handful of stars in the NRL this season.
A look through the sides sees an advantage to Samoa in almost every every department, accentuated by the recent news of Martin Taupau and Jamayne Isaako choosing Samoa over New Zealand.
Samoa have the advantage in the halves, with no less than Anthony Milford calling the shots, and Chanel Harris-Tavita an able back up; whereas Papua New Guinea will likely feature Kyle Laybutt and Lachlan Lam. Both are capable but arguably not quite in the same class. Although Lam has impressed when given a chance with the Kumuls, notably at the World Cup in 2017.
With the addition of one the NRL’s best props in Martin Taupau, Samoa have the upper hand in the forwards too. But a lack of big names has never stopped Papua New Guinea before, and Luke Page is one of rugby league’s great competitors – Nixon Putt is one to keep an eye on too. He moved from the PNG Hunters for 2019 and impressed a lot for the Norths Devils this season. He was one of the Hunters’ and Kumuls’ best last season.
An area where Papua New Guinea may match the Samoans is at fullback. PNG fullback Edene Gebbie is the Intrust Super Cup’s leading man for tackle breaks, and is a full 533 metres ahead of the next best for run metres with 2,606. He will likely face off against Isaako, whose 2019 form has been mixed at best.
THE IMPORTANT DETAILS
Date: Saturday 22nd June
Venue: Leichhardt Oval
WHO WILL WIN?
Only someone thinking with heart over head could predict a Papua New Guinea victory on Saturday, as Samoa just have too much experience, and too much class. They need to come out aggressively and get in the Samoans’ face early, while reducing the errors that can creep into their game. Samoa’s recent disappointing international record should be covered by the recent additions. Looks like Samoa by 20 points; anything less would be a decent effort from Papua New Guinea.
Samoa by 20.