New Zealand Kiwis v Mate Ma'a Tonga
5.00pm, Saturday, November 11
FMG Waikato Stadium, Hamilton
One of the most anticipated clashes of the Rugby League World Cup rolls around on Saturday when New Zealand Tonga meet to decide who tops Pool B.
With both teams comfortably unbeaten in their two World Cup games to date, everything points towards this match at FMG Waikato Stadium living up to its pre-tournament billing.
After demolishing Scotland 74-6 last Saturday, the Kiwis have made a host of changes, headlined by the return of experienced campaigners Simon Mannering and Thomas Leuluai to the starting forward pack.
On the wings Jordan Rapana and Dallin Watene-Zelezniak replace Peta Hiku and Jason Nightingale, while Kodi Nikorima gets the start at standoff.
Tonga coach Kristian Woolf has opted for a settled approach, with Konrad Hurrell's return to the centres for the injured Solomone Kata being the only change to their 17 which downed Samoa 32-18 last week (while there's a swap at hooker with Sione Katoa named to start and Siliva Havili going to the bench).
Fullback Will Hopoate and halfback Ata Hingano both look set to shake off injuries picked up last week.
Why New Zealand can win: The Kiwis have a nice consistency to their game right now and are able to play at a high level of intensity across 80 minutes of football, with no examples so far that they clock off for periods in defence. Tonga on the other hand has a major problem in that area, having struggled for most of the second half against Scotland in week one, after scoring seven tries in the first 40 minutes, while it was found wanting late in the match against Samoa, leaking twice in eight minutes following some poor defensive efforts.
Why Tonga can win: Tonga doesn't just dominate the middle of the park, it owns it. In its opening two World Cup games, Tonga averaged over 700 running metres more than its opponents, thanks largely to middle units Jason Taumalolo, Sio Siua Taukeiaho and Andrew Fifita. It had at least five forwards run for over 100 metres against Scotland and Samoa. New Zealand has a huge job on its hands trying to contain this pack.
The History: Played 4; New Zealand 4; Tonga 0. The Kiwis and Tonga first met at the Rugby League World Cup in 1995 when the New Zealanders needed a late flurry of points to edge to a desperate 25-24 win. The two nations met ahead of the Kiwis' campaign in the 1999 Tri Nations, the New Zealanders winning 74-0 at Carlaw Park. Heading into their successful 2008 RLWC bid, the Kiwis beat Mate Ma'a Tonga 56-8 in another one-off Test at Mount Smart Stadium and they were 40-24 victors the last time they clashed at Rotorua International Stadium before heading to the United Kingdom and France for the 2009 Four Nations.
New Zealand Kiwis | Roger Tuivasa-Sheck; Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, Dean Whare, Brad Takairangi, Jordan Rapana; Kodi Nikorima; Shaun Johnson; Martin Taupau, Thomas Leuluai, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves; Simon Mannering, Joseph Tapine; Adam Blair (c). Interchange: Nelson Asofa-Solomona, Russell Packer, Isaac Liu, Danny Levi, Kenny Bromwich, Te Maire Martin, Elijah Taylor, Peta Hiku.
Mate Ma’a Tonga | Will Hopoate; Daniel Tupou, Michael Jennings, Konrad Hurrell, David Fusitu’a; Tuimoala Lolohea, Mafoa'aeata Hingano; Andrew Fifita, Sione Katoa, Sio Siua Taukeiaho; Manu Ma'u, Sika Manu (c); Jason Taumalolo. Interchange: Siliva Havili, Sam Moa, Peni Terepo, Ben Murdoch-Masila, Mahe Fonua, Manu Vatuvei, Ukuma Ta’ai, Tevita Pangai jnr.
Match officials: Referee: Gerard Sutton. Sideline officials: Chris Butler and Mark Craven. Video referee: Steve Chiddy
Televised: Channel Seven – Live from 2:30pm. Sky Sports – Live coverage from 4.30pm.
NRL.com predicts: As good as Tonga has been in the opening fortnight, it has struggled to maintain intensity across 80 minutes and it's likely to present the Kiwis with some opportunities as a result. New Zealand will build pressure and get points in the end, with its superior class through the spine set to be the difference. Kiwis by 14.