Nicholas Janzen,, NRL.com
It’s a game bound to be full of pride, passion and punishing hits – and, following the recent decision by a collection of NRL players to change their international allegiances, it’s a star-studded showdown, too. Welcome to the clash of Tonga and Samoa: the Pacific Test – a rivalry that could, in just a few years, prove to be a meeting of two rugby league heavyweights.
What will we see in this clash? For some – like Samisoni Langi, Daniel Foster, Siliva Havili and Alex Elisala – there’s more unknown than there is known. For others, though – the likes of Brent Kite, Sam Moa, Sika Manu, Anthony Tupou, Jeff Lima and Roy Asotasi – their input is a known commodity… and a battle that could make this one of the most entertaining clashes on the rugby league calendar in 2013. Sure, there is no possibility of a finals berth nor are premiership points on the line, but what is at stake is national pride – bring it on!
Watch Out Tonga: Samoa’s halves combination rules the roost in this clash – with Carlos Tuimavave and Ben Roberts coming up against the as-yet-unseen Langi and Foster. This could prove a steep learning curve for the Tongan No.6 and No.7, who are yet to taste NRL at the Roosters and Panthers respectively.
Sure, Tuimavave (five games at the Warriors) and Roberts (118 games at the Bulldogs and Eels) are well below the ‘world class’ category, but they possess a combined ability to diligently lead their experienced forward pack around the park.
Langi, a former Australian Schoolboy, and Foster, who has played all six Holden Cup games for Penrith this season at No.6 but has been named as Tonga’s halfback, mightn’t feel comfortable doing that at this earlier stage of their careers.
Watch Out Samoa: Sika Manu, Jason Taumalolo and Anthony Tupou lock the scrum for Tonga – now that is a world-class back row!
Manu has played 14 Tests for New Zealand; Taumalolo, the Cowboys’ 2012 Rookie of the Year, is a future superstar; and Tupou has played 11 Tests for Australia. If the tremendous trio is given the space and time to build up a head of steam or pop an offload, an upset could be on the cards.
Plays To Watch: Arguably the biggest ‘plays’ of the match will be the head-on collisions of two massive forward packs. Whether you’re five metres away from the field or rugged up in your lounge room, you’ll hear – and feel – these big boys charging into one another. There’ll be some belting bruises to come out of this clash!
Key Match-up: Before even a referee’s whistle has been blown. Tune in early for this clash – it pits two of international sport’s best ‘war’ dances against each other. And, as far as we understand, they could very well take place simultaneously. In a similar vein to the Kiwis’ ‘Haka’, the Tongan and Samoan sides will go about scaring the daylights out of each other – and the fans, too – with a traditional ‘friendly’ welcome at the start of the match. Roy Asotasi will lead the Samoan war dance, while Etu Uaisele will front the Tongan version. Brent Kite has already said he’s frightened he might muck it up. We can’t wait.
Where It Will Be Won: The powerful starting props from both teams will set the standard in this one. Whichever team gets the up-front punch from their bookends first will go a long way to securing a ‘W’ for their country here. Not only is it a battle of the 8s and 10s here – it’s a battle of the ‘C’s, too. That’s right, captains Brent Kite (Tonga) and Roy Asotasi (Samoa) go head to head alongside respective teammates Sam Moa and Jeff Lima. The similarities between the two pairings are striking – a tall, strong leader (Kite and Asotasi) alongside a determined, hard-running nugget of a prop (Moa and Lima). Kite (96 metres a game) and Moa (105 metres a game) are averaging slightly more yardage than Asotasi (66 metres a game) and Lima (114 metres a game). The Samoans will need to step up here.
Match Officials: Referee – Matt Cecchin; Sideline Officials – Jeff Younis & Steve Carrall.
Televised: Live – Fox Sports 1 – across Australia. And live into Fiji, Samoa, Tonga and the Solomon Islands, via local broadcasters, too!
The Way We See It: This should prove an enthralling contest – one where big hits are blended with ball-playing brilliance. It’ll be a forward-dominated contest, no doubt, but one still requiring direction from the halves. On that basis alone, we think the ‘Blues’ have too much experience. Samoa by seven points.