Issac Luke will be a key weapon out of dummy half for New Zealand in this tournament. Credit: NRL Photos Copyright: NRL Photos
New Zealand v Samoa
Halliwell Jones Stadium, Warrington
Sunday October 27, 6pm (local time)
Monday October 28, 5am (NSW); 4am (Qld)
New Zealand's World Cup defence begins on day two of the 2013 tournament against an out-of-sorts Samoan side.
The Samoans are packed with NRL stars but simply haven't converted that talent into wins this season, losing 36-4 to Tonga in April and being thrashed 52-16 by the England Knights last week. Those results suggest their defence will need to step up a few levels if they are to contain a New Zealand side packed with quality.
The Kiwis are blessed with one of the most talented teams in their history, with four NRL premiership-winners from the Roosters (Sonny Bill Williams, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Frank-Paul Nuuausala and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck) plus a terrific halves combination, speed out wide and raw power up front.
Samoa boasts its share of talent as well, with some brilliant backline players and a powerful forward pack, although they'll be without former New Zealand captain Roy Asotasi after the veteran prop pulled out of the tournament. Wigan back-rower Harrison Hansen takes on the role of skipper in Asotasi's place.
Watch Out Samoa: If the Kiwis needed to reassure anybody they still had it, a casual 50-0 demolition of the Cook Islands last week did the trick. The fact coach Stephen Kearney described his team's performance as "rusty" won't be good news to New Zealand's group rivals either. The reigning World Cup winners simply have strengths all over the park – Sonny Bill Williams is a walking headline after his heroics for the Roosters this season but the Kiwis also boast a strong pack, some lethal outside backs and a sensational playmaking spine of Issac Luke, Shaun Johnson, Kieran Foran and Kevin Locke. They're going to be tough to stop.
Watch Out New Zealand: The Samoans possess a great all-NRL backline, featuring Anthony Milford, Joseph Leilua, Ben Roberts, Antonio Winterstein, Daniel Vidot, Tim Lafai and Pita Godinet – but Milford is the man who could light up this tournament for Samoa. The fleet-footed fullback was a revelation for Canberra in his rookie season and he's got the talent to cause problems for even the reigning world champions.
Televised: 7mate – Live Monday 2.30am (NSW), 1.30am (Qld).
The Way We See It: Samoa have a strong team and should finish second in Group B, but it's very difficult to see them beating the group favourites first up. The Kiwis have form, talent and experience on their side, and should make a statement here. New Zealand by 18 points.