New Zealand Kiwis v Toa Samoa
Mount Smart Stadium, Auckland
8.10pm, Saturday, October 28
New Zealand and Samoa will meet for just the fourth time in their history when they kick off their Rugby League World Cup campaigns at Mount Smart Stadium in Auckland tonight.
Several of the players who will take the field in the Group B match are dual New Zealand-Samoa internationals, showcasing the close bond the two nations share.
New Zealand will have Brad Takairangi, Nelson Asofa-Solomona, Isaac Liu and Danny Levi making their Kiwi debuts while Kodi Nikorima and Shaun Johnson will play in the halves together for the first time.
The Samoa squad is made up predominantly of players who are already capped at international level and includes veteran campaigners Frank Pritchard and Ben Roberts, along with 2017 Queensland representative Josh Papalii.
Why Samoa can win: Samoa has improved every time it has played New Zealand, most recently a narrow 12-14 loss three years ago which should give it confidence to believe it can knock over the world No 2 side. After suffering a 54-point loss to the Kiwis in 2010, Samoa lost by only 18 when it met New Zealand three years later, before taking the Kiwis all the way at the 2014 Four Nations in an eventual two-point defeat. History suggests Samoa is more than capable.
Why New Zealand can win: Class and current form in the halves. Both Shaun Johnson and Kodi Nikorima are coming off full NRL campaigns where they were among the top performers for their respective clubs. Both players are a genuine running threat, having made nine line breaks each in 2017, and between them they set up 23 tries and scored 11. Conversely Samoa's halves will be made up of Joseph Paulo, who came off the bench in all 10 of his NRL appearances this year, and Ben Roberts, who has been in strong form in the Super League but won't be familiar with the style most of his NRL-based team-mates and opponents will play.
The history: Played 3; Samoa 0; New Zealand 3. This will be the second time these two teams have met in a World Cup, with New Zealand winning 42-24 at the 2013 edition in England. The Kiwis hosted Samoa at this week's venue in their first ever head-to-head Test meeting seven years ago, with New Zealand running out 50-6 winners on that occasion.
New Zealand Kiwis | Roger Tuivasa-Sheck; Dallin Watene Zelezniak, Gerard Beale, Brad Takairangi, Jordan Rapana; Kodi Nikorima, Shaun Johnson; Martin Taupau, Thomas Leuluai, Adam Blair (c); TBC (Kenny Bromwich originally named but ruled out with injury), Joseph Tapine; Simon Mannering. Interchange: Nelson Asofa-Solomona, Russell Packer, Isaac Liu, Danny Levi, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Peta Hiku, Te Maire Martin, Addin Fonua-Blake.
Toa Samoa | Young Tonumaipea; Peter Mata'utia, Tim Lafai, Joey Leilua, Ken Maumalo; Joseph Paulo, Ben Roberts; Junior Paulo, Jazz Tevaga, Sam Lisone; Josh Papalii, Frank Pritchard (c), Leeson Ah Mau. Interchange: Pita Godinet, Herman Ese'ese, Suaia Matagi, Bunty Afoa, Zane Musgrove, Ricky Leutele, Frank Winterstein, Fa'amanu Brown.
Match officials: Referee: James Child. Sideline officials: Michael Wise and Tim Roby. Review official: Bernard Sutton.
Televised: SKY Sport 2 - Live coverage from 8.00pm NZT, Channel 7 – Live coverage from 6.10pm AEST.
NRL.com predicts: While both sides are likely to show a little rust given it's their first competitive hit-out, you can expect it to be an open match with plenty of exciting plays on both sides of the ball. The battle in the middle will be tough and closely contested, but in the end the Kiwis' class in the spine should come through. New Zealand by 14.