Matt Encarnacion, NRL.com
Papua New Guinea v Samoa
MS3 Craven Park, Hull
Monday 8pm (UK time)
Tuesday 7am (AEDT); 6am (AEST)
It’s been just over a week since Welsh legend Gareth Thomas kicked off the tournament by beating 500 dancers to dive under the posts, but already two nations face must-win matches to keep their World Cup dreams alive.
Papua New Guinea’s hopes of advancing past the group stages took a major blow when they blew a winnable game against France 9-8 last week, while Toa Samoa slept through the opening 20 minutes of their 42-24 defeat to group favourites New Zealand.
In one of the quirks of the draw, only the fourth (and last) team in Group B misses out on a quarter final birth, meaning one of these two teams are all but out of the tournament should they lose their second game in a row.
Defeat would just about spell the end for Adrian Lam’s men, who will have just a four-day turnaround before their final group clash against current world champions New Zealand.
It would be a cruel way for the Kumuls to bow out of the tournament, given they lost all three games of their 2008 World Cup campaign and spent bucketloads of cash on a local rugby league academy that included High Performance Director Mal Meninga.
Samoa, on the other hand, have the advantage of having a week to recover until their third match against France in Perpignan, giving them one final chance to grab that crucial third spot on for-and-against should they lose.
But, needless to say, victory for either side would ease the pressure.
The Kumuls received a boost ahead of Tuesday’s game with former NRL hooker Paul Aiton successfully appealing a one-match ban for his high shot on French fullback Morgan Escare.
Watch out Samoa: Star fullback David Mead might have missed the game-winning goal moments before the final siren, but the Titans flyer did just about everything else. His 229m output against the French was by far the most of any player through the first round of games in the tournament.
Mead wasn’t alone. Experienced utility Jessie Joe Nandye (formerly Parker), who plies his trade with Whitehaven in the Kingstone Press Championship – effectively England’s reserve-grade – contributed 163m and 35 tackles in his contribution off the bench.
Watch out Papua New Guinea: As far as the intimidation factor goes, there’s no duo more menacing than Samoa’s front row pairing of Suaia Matagi and Mose Masoe. They may not possess the quality and quantity of a Matt Scott or Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, but both have the ability to turn a game with a run or hit. Their mouth-watering clash against the always physical Kumuls’ pack is worth watching this game alone.
Key Match-Up: The strengths of both teams lie in their physicality and their willingness to embrace collision. The key, however, will be whether either set of halves can add the finishing touches in attack. This is where experienced NRL playmakers Ben Roberts and Ray Thompson enter in. The respective Samoan and Papua New Guinean halves are potential match-winners just for their ability to steer their teams around the park. Whichever one can achieve that will go a long way to finding success.
Televised: 7mate – Live Tuesday 7am (NSW); 6am (Qld)
The Way We See It: A lot depends on how quickly the Kumuls have overcome their stinging loss to France in the first game. The opening exchanges will go a long way to determining whether they’re mentally prepared for another fight. Samoa showed how much ticker they have after fighting back from a 32-4 deficit against the Kiwis, and on that basis alone, the Samoans should win in a close one.
*Statistics: NRL Stats