Junior Kangaroos v Junior Kiwis preview
Junior Kangaroos v Junior Kiwis
The game's future stars take centre stage on Friday afternoon as the best young talent from Australia and New Zealand go toe-to-toe in a mouth-watering showdown in Canberra.
Last year's clash featured a host of youngsters who have now developed into NRL regulars including Nathan Cleary, Brian Kelly, Coen Hess, Connor Watson, Ata Hingano and Siosifa Talakai.
The Kangaroos emerged victors on that occasion with a 34-20 win at Pirtek Stadium over a Kiwis side that created plenty of opportunities but couldn't convert them into points.
Australia will head into Friday's clash boasting more NRL experience, but the Junior Kiwis have plenty of players in red-hot form who are capable of scoring from anywhere.
Why the Kangaroos can win: NRL experience is always a big thing in these matches and the Kangaroos are blessed with a back row that have all played first-grade. Jaydn Su'A was man of the match in last year's fixture and was rewarded with four appearances for the Broncos. Sam Stone has become a regular in Newcastle's NRL side, with the 19-year-old breaking into the starting side in recent weeks. Lock forward Cam Murray has also found his way into first grade with the Rabbitohs and completes a formidable triumvirate of classy forwards who should be a cut above against their less-experienced rivals.
Why the Kiwis can win: They haven't finalised their squad yet, but it seems likely they'll go with Sione Katoa and Greg Leleisiuao on the right edge in what shapes as a 'Leipana-esque' combination. Katoa has been brilliant for the Sharks this season, with the youngster leading the Holden Cup in tackle breaks (100) and line breaks (14) while he has also scored nine tries – just one behind Panther Daniel Brown. Leleisiuao has only played seven matches in 2017 but his numbers are equally frightening: 80 tackle breaks, 12 line breaks and eight tries. He's coming off a monster game against the Cowboys that saw him score a hat-trick, run for 307 metres and produce six line breaks in Parramatta's big win. If these two get early ball then anything is possible.
Key match-up: Brodie Croft v Jarome Luai. Such is the class of both young men that these up-and-coming playmakers have played just four Holden Cup games between them in 2017. In fact, Brodie Croft hasn't even played NYC this year with the prodigiously-talented 19-year-old promoted to the Intrust Super Cup after a standout Auckland Nines campaign that saw him named in the team of the tournament. Luai has been a key cog in Penrith's recent dominance of the Holden Cup and should be in his element in the No.7 jersey on Friday afternoon.
The history: Played 8; Australia 5: New Zealand 3. Not a lot has split these sides since the concept became a permanent fixture on the rugby league calendar in 2010. The Kangaroos have won the past two meetings, but history is against them as they aim to become the first team to three-peat.
Match officials: Referee: Phil Henderson. Sideline officials: Mitchell Stone and Keiren Irons.
NRL.com predicts: There are no certainties in rugby league – especially in the under-20s – but it's hard to go past an Australian side that oozes class in all the key positions. Kangaroos by 10.