Tonga v Italy preview
Tonga v Italy
The Shay, Halifax
Sunday 4pm (UK time)
Monday 3am (AEDT), 2am (AEST)
This week brought heartbreak for the Tongan side, forced to sit idly by as Scotland overcame a gallant Tomahawks outfit to move them to five points in Group C and end Tonga's hopes of advancing.
Expect them to look to take out their frustrations on Italy, who themselves wouldn't have cared for the Scotland result; they now need a win over Tonga to ensure passage through to the quarter-finals.
The good news for the Italians is that their heavy win over Wales means any win – even by a single point – puts them in front of the Bravehearts on differential, making the equation a simple one: win and progress; lose or draw and bow out.
With those kinds of stakes this match should be a belter. The frustrated Mate Ma'a were favoured to progress from Group C and they will be looking to make a statement in their final game of the tournament. The Azzurri have everything to play for, making this compelling viewing.
Watch Out Tonga: After the USA, Italy have probably been the surprise packet of the tournament. Unbeaten so far and with a quarter-final place on the line, they will be well and truly fired up for this one. Key men up front for the Azzurri will be their powerful props, Raider Paul Vaughan and former Tiger and Titan Anthony Laffranchi. As a pair, they are averaging 300 metres per game over the opening two fixtures and will be crucial to putting the Azzurri in strong field position – from where the likes of in-form centre Aiden Guerra (two try assists, two tries, 122 average metres and 13 tackle breaks) will look to take advantage.
Watch Out Italy: The fact they have been bundled out early will make the Mate Ma'a even more fired up, and their host of NRL players make them dangerous across the park. Despite his team's lacklustre performances, Warriors centre Konrad Hurrell has been devastating, averaging 165 metres per game with six tackle breaks and one runaway try.
Key Match-Up: The front rows. We're really looking forward to seeing the experienced Brent Kite and explosive Fuifui Moimoi taking on the in-form Azzurri bookends. Both these sides have won the yardage battle very comfortably in both their games so far – Italy by over 300 metres against Wales and over 400 metres against Scotland, and Tonga by 150 against the Cook Islands and by almost 450 against Scotland (yet they still lost somehow!).
Televised: 7mate – Live Monday 2.30am (NSW); 1.30am (Qld).
The Way We See It: These have been two of the tougher sides to tip in the tournament, for differing reasons. It remains to be seen how the fact that Tonga can't progress will affect their concentration – or whether the fact there is a finals spot on the line will make the Italians nervous. Tonga have been underwhelming twice so far so on that basis we'll take the Azzurri by 8.