ENGLAND V TOA SAMOA
Campbelltown Sports Stadium, Sydney
7.40pm AEST, Saturday, May 6
The Representative Round has a different flavour this year with the addition of England facing off with Toa Samoa in the final leg of the historic triple-header at Campbelltown Sports Stadium tonight.
While they have met only once in a Test match previously, there is plenty of reason to think these two nations will be evenly matched this weekend with Samoa enjoying the luxury of having several players who are currently among the best in their positons in the NRL.
England coach Wayne Bennett has suffered a couple of big injury blows before a ball has even been kicked, with St George Illawarra Dragons star Gareth Widdop and fellow playmaker George Williams both ruled out with knee injuries.
Back-rowers Mike McMeeken and Chris McQueen are both set to play for England for the first time, along with St Helens prop Alex Walmsley.
Every member of the Samoa squad has played NRL football this year, making this one of their strongest squads ever assembled.
Powerhouse Wests Tigers winger David Nofoaluma will miss the match through injury after being named in the initial squad, with giant Vodafone Warrior Ken Maumalo coming in for the Pacific side.
Why England can win: England has a squad full of renowned metre-eaters, and on paper look to have a big advantage in their ability to gain yardage. No forward has run for more metres in the Super League this year than Walmsley, while backs Ryan Hall, Zak Hardaker and Jermaine McGillvary all sit in the competition's top 10 for metres gained as well. Add to that the fact that Sam Burgess and James Graham are both averaging over 130 metres per game for their club sides in the NRL, and it's easy to see how this England side could steamroll most opponents on their day.
Why Samoa can win: Of the 18 players selected for Samoa, 16 of them play at Australian clubs while the other two play for the Vodafone Warriors in Auckland. They are used to the conditions they will encounter on Saturday night and their playing group haven't had to do any major travel in the lead-up to the match. England on the other hand has only seven 'local' players, with the other 13 members of their squad arriving Down Under on Sunday, just six days before the clash.
The History: England v Samoa: Played 1; England 1; Samoa 0. Their history is short but sweet, after they played out a thriller at Suncorp Stadium back in 2014. Samoa pushed its opponents all the way in an eventual 34-26 loss that day.
England: Kevin Brown, Sam Burgess, Thomas Burgess, Luke Gale, James Graham, Ryan Hall, Zak Hardaker, Chris Heighington, Chris Hill, Josh Hodgson, Jermaine McGillvary, Mike McMeeken, Chris McQueen, Sean O'Loughlin (c), Mark Percival, Stefan Ratchford, Scott Taylor, Alex Walmsley, Kallum Watkins, Elliott Whitehead.
Toa Samoa: Bunty Afoa, Leeson Ah Mau, John Asiata, Fa'amanu Brown, Herman Ese'ese, Sam Kasiano, Tim Lafai, Joseph Leilua, Josh McGuire, Peter Mata'utia, Sione Mata'utia, Suaia Matagi, Ken Maumalo, Anthony Milford, Junior Paulo, Kaysa Pritchard, Sauaso Sue, Antonio Winterstein.
Match officials: Referee: Gerard Sutton. Sideline officials: Jeff Younis and Rickey McFarlane. Review official: Ben Galea. Senior review official: Jared Maxwell.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live coverage from 7.30pm (AEDT). SKY Sports - Live coverage from 9.30pm (NZT).
NRL.com predicts: Samoa will come charging out of the gates in this one and are likely to make the more positive start given the type of players it has and the travel factor. But eventually the 1-17 class of England is likely to come through and it should have enough to edge past Samoa on this occasion. England by eight.