Samoa v Tonga
Cbus Super Stadium
It’s arguably the most anticipated international rivalry not involving a top-three nation, and when Samoa and Tonga meet it’s always full of pride and passion.
Their head-to-head history is a brief one – amazing given their geographical proximity and the history between the two nations – but the ‘Usos’ and ‘Tokos’ always bring a bruising style with plenty of open rugby league.
Tongan coach Kristian Woolf has opted to select his side based largely on current form, with youngsters Tuimoala Lolohea, Solomone Kata, Siosiua Taukeiaho and Albert Vete all rewarded for a strong opening two months in the Telstra Premiership.
Samoa will rely more heavily on their experience, with seasoned campaigners Frank Pritchard, Sam Kasiano and Josh McGuire sure to feature heavily in Matt Parish’s game plan.
Watch out Samoa: If Samoa are to earn victory on the Gold Coast they will have to do it without two of their best players from last year. Playmakers Ben Roberts and Pita Godinet have both left out of the squad due to travel factors associated with them playing in the Super League. Their presence and impact will be hard to replicate.
The back five they will come up against on Saturday night is deadly, with the speed and power to do damage from anywhere on the park. All of them except Mahe Fonua have averaged over 100 run metres per game so far this season, while between them they have a combined total of 12 line breaks and 18 tries in 2015.
Watch out Tonga: Mate Ma’a lack any significant NRL experience in the key positions of 1, 6, 7 and 9. Halves Samisoni Langi and Joel Luani have been plying their trade in the lower grades along with hooker Pat Politoni, while fullback Lolohea is in his first full year of first grade. The Tongan spine might struggle when the heat comes on.
Tonga played only one international match last year, going down to Papua New Guinea 32-18. The Samoan side on the other hand have fresh experience playing against the three best teams in the world as part of last year’s Four Nations campaign. That involvement could be a crucial factor in this clash.
Key Match-Up: Joseph Leilua v Konrad Hurrell. Two of the NRL’s best attacking centres will go face-to-face on Saturday night in a clash full of hair, muscles and smiles. Even though Hurrell’s most recent game was in the NSW Cup he will be a key player for Tonga, and in four first-grade games this year he has averaged 132 running metres. Leilua is just as dangerous, combining raw power with quick feet to register five line breaks and 122 average metres this year.
The History: Played 2; Samoa 1, Tonga 1. Their history stretches across only two games, one at the 2008 World Cup and the other in the 2013 Pacific Test, where they claimed a win each. Tonga currently hold the bragging rights though, having won the most recent encounter and doing so in convincing fashion, running out 36-4 victors a couple of years ago.
Did You Know: Of the 34 players who will take the field for Samoa and Tonga this weekend 12 are either current or former members of the New Zealand Warriors system. Pacific players feature in every NRL team these days, but they have formed a pivotal part of what the Warriors are about since day one.
Match Officials: Referee: Ben Cummins. Touch Judges: Brett Suttor and Michael Wise. Video Referees: Steve Chiddy and Luke Patten.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live from 7.30pm. Sky Sport – Live from 9.30pm NZT.
The Way We See It: While Samoa have it over their rivals in terms of experience and involvement in big games, they lack a standout playmaker who can get their big pack rolling and feed backline ball at the right time. Tonga have a bit more talent across the board which should see them get over the line. The Tongans to win by eight.