Tonga's faith in Kata at fullback
Tonga's captain and coach say that rookie fullback Solomone Kata could be even more dangerous at fullback than he has proved to be at centre in his young career so far.
Another Warriors young-gun, Tuimoala Lolohea, featured at fullback in the heart-stopping last-start 18-16 loss to Samoa in May's Pacific Test with Kata in his usual centre position.
But with Lolohea having been recruited by the Kiwis to plug the gap in the playmaking stocks caused by injuries to Shaun Johnson and Kieran Foran, Tonga coach Kristian Woolf has opted to blood Kata in the No.1 jersey and has every confidence the inexperienced custodian will be able to combine with the rest of the spine.
This includes returning halfback Daniel Foster and makeshift five-eighth Pat Politoni, who played hooker in May but will cover for Samisoni Langi in this Saturday's World Cup qualifier, moving Joel Luani into the starting hooking role.
"Solomone Kata isn't an experienced fullback but he's a very good footballer and he's one of those guys I think could play any position and do a really good job," Woolf told NRL.com.
"He's just a natural footy player. The positive about putting him at the back is he gets on the ball a lot more than what he would as a centre or winger. We're looking forward to what he can do."
Tonga skipper Sika Manu also had faith the 20-year-old Tongan native would get the job done.
"He's a very dangerous player so having him at the back with a lot more ball in hand, he plays as a centre usually, he'll be really good for us," Manu told NRL.com.
"I think he'll be really dangerous at the back. He's been really dangerous in the NRL in the centres so we'll get him a bit more early ball and a bit of space, who knows what he'll come up with."
Woolf added that the only player in his squad not to have played NRL – halfback Daniel Foster – was a seasoned veteran when it came to internationals and would add some stability to the side.
"Daniel Foster's played for Tonga for a couple of years now. The experience he's got from the 2013 World Cup and Tests in PNG last year where he was unfortunately injured will certainly help him out," Woolf said.
"He hasn't played a lot of footy this year but he knows what international footy's about and the level and how to get the team around the park. He's confident doing it too from his previous experience so he's going to be very good for us."
Woolf added the experience Politoni had gained last year at NRL level for an injury-ravaged Sharks side had boosted his development as a player.
"Pat Politoni is generally a hooker but he also backs up and plays some half for his club side Cronulla. He had the opportunity last year through some bad circumstances to play a lot of NRL footy and he really grew as a player in that period. I think those blokes can do a really good job," Woolf said.
Manu didn't expect the game to be won and lost by the playmakers either way, tipping a traditional Pacific Islands style game of furious hit-ups and tackles.
"We're obviously missing Samisoni Langi but we've got Daniel Foster back. It will be crucial but in the island teams our main strength is running and tackling so we'll be trying to focus on that," Manu said.
"[Foster] is a really good player, he's played for Tonga for a while now, he's been really good for us. He's a really solid defender, he's got good ball playing skills as well. I've played alongside him for a while now. He'll be really good for us."
He added that the do-or-die clash at Campbelltown should prove a great spectacle no matter who wins.
"Every time we play it's always physical and always good entertainment so hopefully we get a lot of fans out there to support the boys," he said.
The World Cup qualifier between Tonga and the Cook Islands will be live streamed on NRL.com from 7.30pm on Saturday night AEDT.