RLWC Preview: New Zealand v Tonga
New Zealand v Tonga
Saturday 5pm NZT; 3pm AEST
One of the most anticipated clashes of the Rugby League World Cup group stages rolls around this Saturday, with New Zealand and Tonga meeting 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 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 five-eighth.
Tonga coach Kristian Woolf has opted for a settled approach, with Konrad Hurrell's return to the centres for Solomone Kata being the only change to their 17 which downed Samoa 32-18 last week.
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 have 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 they were found wanting late in the match against Samoa, leaking twice in eight minutes following some poor defensive efforts.
Why Tonga can win: Tonga don't just dominant the middle of the park, they own it. In their opening two World Cup games they have averaged over 700 run metres more than their opponents, thanks largely to middle units Jason Taumalolo, Sio Siua Taukeiaho and Andrew Fifita, while they had at least five forwards run for over 100 metres against Scotland and Samoa. New Zealand have a huge job on their hands trying to contain this pack.
The History: Played 2; New Zealand 2; Tonga 0. It has been 18 years since these two nations met in an official Test match, with the Kiwis 74-0 winners on that day. But their prior meeting at the 1995 World Cup was a different story, with the Kiwis requiring a late flurry of points to edge past Tonga 25-24.
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 have been in the opening fortnight, they have struggled to maintain intensity across 80 minutes and are likely to present the Kiwis with some opportunities as a result. New Zealand will build pressure and get points in the end, with their superior class through the spine set to be the difference. Kiwis by 14.
This article first appeared on NRL.com