Tonga v Cook Islands preview
Tonga v Cook Islands
Leigh Sports Village, Leigh
Tuesday 8pm (UK time)
Wednesday 7am (AEDT); 6am (AEST)
The Pacific Islands teams from Groups C and D face off in what is effectively a sudden-death encounter, with both teams looking to bounce back from surprise first-up defeats.
Tonga went into the 2013 World Cup as the highest-rated team outside the 'big three' of Australia, New Zealand and England, but were shocked 26-24 by Scotland in their first match a week ago. The Tongans dominated the match and were denied several tries by the video referee, but simply couldn't finish the job and went down in a thriller. The defeat was compounded by the impressive form of their Group C rivals Italy, who won their first game and drew with Scotland in their second. The two European nations now share top spot in the group with three points apiece, meaning Tonga will need to beat the Cook Islands and then Italy in their final match in order to have a chance of advancing to the quarter-finals.
It's a similar situation for the Cooks, who were beaten 32-20 by the United States first up. They'll now need to beat Tonga and Wales – and pray that the USA falls to Scotland – in order to win Group D and go through to the knockout stages.
Tonga have the stronger side on paper here. But we've already seen in this World Cup that strength on paper doesn't necessarily count for much.
Watch Out Cook Islands: The Tongans scored five tries to four against Scotland and would have won the match if not for Samisoni Langi's wayward goal-kicking (he kicked two from five, while Scotland's Danny Brough kicked five from six). Sika Manu was at his rampaging best in that match, crashing over for two tries and adding a try assist, four tackle-breaks, 30 tackles and 16 carries for 122 metres. Fellow back-rower Jason Taumalolo was also hard to stop with 17 runs for 138 metres, including five tackle busts.
They've got great strike power in the outside backs as well, with NRL stars Konrad Hurrell, Daniel Tupou, Jorge Taufua and Glen Fisiiahi all looking dangerous in attack against Scotland. If the Tongans get good field position the Cook Islands' defence is going to be hard-pressed to contain them.
Watch Out Tonga: Drury Low was one of the Cook Islands' most dangerous players against the USA, with the occasional Bulldogs No.1 scoring a try, setting up another and making five tackle busts from fullback. Big men Dylan Napa and Zane Tetavano are also capable of bending the defensive line; both made a dozen hit-ups and passed the 100-metre mark against the Tomahawks and are capable of matching Tonga's enforcers here.
The real edge the Cook Islands have over Tonga is in the halves, where Panthers halfback Isaac John showed off his playmaking nous against the USA. John had three try assists and made 14 kicks for 403 metres last week, and is sure to target Glen Fisiiahi (if he keeps his spot in the side) after the Tonga fullback made three crucial errors at the back against Scotland.
Where It Will Be Won: Getting the basics right. Both these sides had the talent to win last week but were let down by poor ball control – neither team managed an 80 per cent completion rate in their opening World Cup matches, a feat achieved by both of their less-fancied opponents. Star-studded Tonga should be strong enough to get the job done but there have already been several upsets at this tournament and if the Cook Islands can control the ball and stay in the contest, anything could happen.
Televised: 7mate – Live from 6.30am (NSW); 5.30pm Sunday (Qld).
The Way We See It: The Cook Islands can take plenty out of Scotland's shock win over Tonga last week, which was built on organised play from the halves, desperate goal-line defence, good ball security and a little bit of luck. They'll need all those ingredients if they are to snatch a win here. But we can't see lightning striking twice for the Tongans, who could run away with the match if they make a fast start. Tonga by 16 points.
*Statistics: NRL Stats