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Knights forward Sam Mataora will start in the front row for Cook Islands against Tonga on Saturday night.

Comparatively speaking, the respective Tonga and Cook Islands forward packs in Saturday's 2017 Rugby League World Cup qualifier is as close a fight as Muhammad Ali and Kostya Tszyu would've been when both fighters were in their prime.

Every single one of the Tongan's forwards have played first grade headlined by captain Sika Manu, Manu Ma'u, Peni Terepo, Albert Vete and Ben Murdoch-Masila – yet their presence isn't concerning the Kukis' most experienced forward, Knight Sam Mataora.

With 42 NRL games to his name Mataora is just one of two Cook Islands forwards with experience in the top grade, including Francis Molo's six games for Brisbane. 

Yet if nothing else the 24-year-old's passion for his birth country will reign supreme, with the loser of the clash resigned to waiting until 2021 for their next opportunity to qualify to the World Cup.

"I don't try and worry about [Tonga]. I'm just focused on our own stuff and see what we can put out on the day. It's a bit weird [that I'm the most experienced]. I'm getting old now so I'll just try and do my job and help out the boys," Mataora told 

"We all need to step up though, even the younger ones, because it makes it easier on everyone. If we play as a team I reckon we'll be all good. During the last World Cup I almost cried listening to the national anthem so I'll definitely want to make in 2017.

"The camp and the experiences overall at the World Cup was awesome, and has a very similar vibe to what they are now. We're like brothers and it's practically a family reunion when we get back together.

"Hopefully we can get on top of them. We do have some young kids there though, some shy ones, and I remember I was like that when I first played for the Cook Islands so I'm looking to get them out of their shells."

An integral member of coach Alex Chan's leadership group, including captain Jono Ford and Raiders utility Jordan Rapana, Mataora said he will head into Saturday's clash at Campbelltown Sports Stadium with plenty of confidence considering the way he ended the regular season as a premiership winner.

That and the fact Mataora re-entered NRL calculations at the Knights having played nine games following a year-long exodus.

"I gained massive confidence after winning NSW Cup and playing in the State Championship so I'm happy with what has been a good year. It was huge for me to get another run in the NRL as well," Mataora said.

"Maybe next year I can do even better. I can take lessons from people like Clint Newton too, he was a good leader. 

"Being able to learn off him especially when it came to off the field stuff in terms of discipline, diet and managing injuries was awesome, and just a few of things I took away from playing with him."

The World Cup qualifier between Tonga and the Cook Islands will be live streamed on from 7.30pm on Saturday night AEDT.

Acknowledgement of Country

National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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