MATE MA'A TONGA v FIJI BATI
Campbelltown Stadium, Sydney
5.30pm, Saturday, May 6
Tonga and Fiji may have played each other only twice in two decades but with the 2017 Rugby League World Cup around the corner both sides will want to take the early chance to impress with international jerseys up for grabs at the end of the NRL season.
The Pacific Test match will be the second of three blockbusters on Saturday with Tonga naming a strong line-up that includes former New Zealand winger Manu Vatuvei and Bulldogs fullback Will Hopoate for the first time.
Fiji also features plenty of NRL talent with Storm winger Suliasi Vunivalu making his international debut alongside Panthers centre Waqa Blake, while Wests Tigers utility back Kevin Naiqama will captain the side and start in the No 1 jersey.
Young quartet Marcelo Montoya, Viliame Kikau, Tui Kamikamica and Sitiveni Moceidreke have all made their NRL debuts this season on the back of international call-ups for Fiji in 2016.
After stellar battles across their careers at the Vodafone Warriors and Newcastle, Sea Eagles winger Akuila Uate will clash with Vatuvei for the 10th time in history with the Fijian native scoring eight tries from nine games for the Bati after bursting onto the international scene at the 2008 Rugby League World Cup.
Why Tonga can win: Every player in the Tongan line-up has NRL experience, headlined by 226-game veteran winger Vatuvei. With a number of players to choose from, coach Kristian Woolf has opted for size across the park, particularly in the backline with Roosters winger Daniel Tupou and young Wests Tigers rookie Moses Suli. Vodafone Warriors halves pairing Tui Lolohea and Ata Hingano have formed a strong combination in the Intrust Super Premiership in contrast with Fiji's lack of depth in the six and seven jersey. With a strong forward pack led by Leilani Latu and in-form Felise Kaufusi up front they'll be hard to beat if they can gel well in a week of preparation.
Why Fiji can win: Thirteen players in the squad played in Fiji's last game in October of 2016 – an impressive 20-18 victory over Samoa in their own backyard. In comparison, Tonga are only fielding six players from their last hit-out last year, so the continuity and combinations within the Fijian camp is already there. However with no familiar halves pairing for the clash, the team's attack will fall heavily on impressive Sea Eagles hooker Apisai Koroisau who will link with veteran hooker James Storer around the ruck. Fiji boast a number of NRL forwards with the Saifiti brothers, Korbin Sims and Kane Evans needing to match the more attacking Tongan forward pack to allow the speed men of Vunivalu and Blake into open space.
The history: Played 2; Tonga 0; Fiji 2. Fiji have won both clashes between the two sides but have won only three of seven games in New South Wales and lost their only match at Campbelltown Stadium against Samoa in 2006. Tonga have won twice at the venue by a margin of 20 points or more and have not lost a game after leading at half-time since 2006 – ironically a game they went down to Fiji by two points.
Mate Ma'a Tonga | 1 William Hopoate; 2 Manu Vatuvei, 3 Brenko Lee, 4 Mosese Suli, 5 Daniel Tupou; 6 Tuimoala Lolohea, 7 Mafoa'aeata Hingano; 8 Leilani Latu, 9 Siliva Havili, 10 Addin Fonua-Blake; 11 Felise Kaufusi, 12 Tony Williams; 13 Joe Ofahengaue. Interchange: 14 Sione Katoa, 15 Patrick Kaufusi, 16 Leivaha Pulu, 17 Siosaia Vave.
Fiji Bati | 1 Kevin Naiqama; 2 Suliasi Vunivalu, 3 Waqa Blake, 4 Taane Milne, 5 Marcelo Montoya; 6 Sitiveni Moceidreke, 7 Henry Raiwalui; 8 Daniel Saifiti, 9 Apisai Koroisau, 10 Kane Evans; 11 Viliame Kikau, 12 Erevonu Tuicaumatalevu Kamikamica; 13 Korbin Sims. Interchange: 14 James Storer, 15 Jacob Saifiti, 16 Eloni Vunakece, 17 Petero Benjamin Nakubuwai.
Match officials: Referee: Ben Cummins; Touch judges: Tim Roby and Belinda Sleeman; Review Officials: Luke Patten and Steve Chiddy.
Televised: Fox League – Live from 5.30pm; SKY Sport - Live from 7.30pm
NRL.com predicts: On paper Tonga looks very tough to beat with a wealth of big men up front and a heap of experience across the park. However Fiji are a side that will not let size intimidate them and will throw the ball around at will. Similarly to the Gold Coast Titans, they're a team that pushes the opposition for the entire 80 minutes with their last two games decided by only two points. We will play it safe and tip Tonga, but the beauty of international rugby league is that anything is possible. Tonga by 6.