Test matches preview: New Zealand vs Tonga, Fiji vs Lebanon, Samoa vs Papua New Guinea
A super Saturday of rugby league will see six star-studded international teams take centre stage in three blockbuster Test matches.
Test matches between New Zealand and Tonga, Fiji and Lebanon and Samoa and Papua New Guinea will take place on Saturday afternoon, with every fixture live on 9GEM.
Before the matches gets underway, here’s everything you need to know.
NEW ZEALAND VS TONGA – KICK-OFF 3.40PM (AEST)
Saturday’s match at Mt Smart Stadium in Auckland will feature Tonga’s devastating pack, including the bulldozers Siosiua Taukeiaho, Peni Terepo, Tevita Pangai Jr and Jason Taumalolo, who hold the key to a visitors’ victory, while the Kiwis boast dynamic backs, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Joseph Manu, Shaun Johnson and Benji Marshall.
It’s the first meeting of the Pacific rivals New Zealand and Tonga since Tonga stunned the Kiwis in World Cup group play two years ago.
Taumalolo’s men were eliminated in the semi-finals by England and were off the pace when overwhelmed 34-16 by the Kangaroos last October.
While Tonga are seeking greater consistency, the same could be said of New Zealand, who ended last year’s 2-1 series loss in England with 34-0 thumping of the hosts in the dead-rubber final Test.Marshall’s influence on his Test return has extended to leading the Kiwis haka, but Tonga warned they won’t bow down in the battle of the halves.
Veteran halfback Marshall was a popular choice when anointed to lead New Zealand’s traditional challenge in his first Test since 2012 and he can expect a rousing response when Tonga unleash their Sipi Tau at Mt Smart Stadium.
Captain Dallin Watene-Zelezniak and coach Michael Maguire said Marshall had been a prominent voice all week expects him to pull the strings effectively alongside Shaun Johnson.
“Benji’s going to take control at the right times and direct the team around,” Maguire said.”I’ve got a strong blend of leaders so I’ve just got to make sure that those boys understand their role and Benji will play his role.”
On paper, New Zealand will hold sway in the halves, with Tonga forced to deploy-Leeds based utility Tuimoala Lolohea at halfback and John Asiata at five-eighth, a role the regular forward had filled this season at the North Queensland Cowboys.
TV Broadcast Info
New Zealand vs Tonga
Sydney – 3.00pm LIVE on 9GEM
Brisbane – 3.00pm LIVE on 9GEM
Melbourne – 3.00pm LIVE on 9GEM
Adelaide – 2.30pm LIVE on 9GEM
Perth – 1.00pmLIVE on 9GEM
FIJI VS LEBANON – KICK-OFF 5.40PM (AEST)
At Leichhardt Oval the Ox & Palm Pacific Test Invitational double-header kicks off with Fiji favourites to beat Lebanon.
Lebanon coach Rick Stone says the side’s bold mid-week threat to boycott Saturday’s Test against Fiji served its purpose and attention had now turned to orchestrating an upset at Leichhardt.
Skipper Robbie Farah had threatened a no-show earlier this week, when intentions to cover the Cedars logo were sensationally countered by threats of jail time by the Lebanon Rugby League Federation.
Unhappy with results of the recent board elections and state of the local competition in Lebanon, peace talks on Wednesday ensured the players would run out against the Bati with badges on display but their point made.
Stone was in charge of Fiji when they beat Lebanon 40-28 in 2014. Having exposed then-unheralded pair Viliame Kikau and Daniel Saifiti to the Test arena, he understands how big the opportunity is for his young side.
“There’s plenty of history sprinkled with examples of opportunities taken by these younger players to go on and do something decent in their career,” he said.
“(Success depends on) how well your next tier players stand up to the rigours and speed of a Test and that is an unknown for Fiji and us.”
He said Wests Tigers playmaker Farah and Canterbury hooker Michael Lichaa would need to lead the way against a Fijian outfit headlined by destructive wingers Maika Sivo and Suliasi Vunivalu plus tough forward Korbin Sims.
“Key players like that in these sort of Tests are vitally important and they have a real opportunity to make a mark,” Stone said.
“Sometimes the whole ‘on paper’ argument doesn’t add up.
“If you can get the right emotional connection, play with some passion and control the ball you give yourselves a chance.”
TV Broadcast Info
Fiji vs Lebanon
Sydney – 5.30pm LIVE on 9GEM
Brisbane – 5.30pm LIVE on 9GEM
Melbourne – 5.30pm LIVE on 9GEM
Adelaide – 5.00pm LIVE on 9GEM
Perth – 3.30pm LIVE on 9GEM
SAMOA VS PNG – KICK-OFF 7.55PM (AEST)
Finally, Samoa collides with Papua New Guinea in a bruising affair not to be missed.
PNG features hardened NRL players in captain James Segeyaro, Rhyse Martin and Kurt Baptiste, and what the Kumuls might lack in absolute class is compensated by their ferocious, never-say-die attitude. It will be on full display against a potent Samoan side which includes Martin Taupau, Junior Paulo, David Nofoaluma and the crafty Anthony Milford, in a game that may prove to be closer than many anticipate.
Segeyaro said the honour of representing Papua New Guinea is equivalent to pulling on the maroon of Queensland as the Kumuls dream of pulling off a boilover against Samoa in Saturday’s Pacific rugby league Test.
For years, the Brisbane hooker vowed never to turn out for the Kumuls again over what he described as disrespect shown to his father by PNG league officials. He returned to the fold to represent his country of birth during the 2017 World Cup before being handed the captaincy last year.
The 28-year-old describes his Kumuls teammates as his “brothers” and representing his culture as an “emotional” experience.
The 2014 Dally M hooker of the year has made it well known of his desire to play State of Origin one day but says the he holds the Kumuls’ jersey in just as high a regard.
“This equals playing for the Maroons – representing my culture,” Segeyaro said.
“This is where I belong and this is where my blood lies. The jersey is more than just a jersey. It’s my skin.”
The Kumuls will start as $6.50 outsiders against Toa Samoa at Sydney’s Leichhardt Oval, but Segeyaro says he and his teammates are driven to do the rugby league-mad nation proud.
TV Broadcast Info
Samoa vs Papua New Guinea
Sydney – 7.30pm LIVE on 9GEM
Brisbane – 7.30pm LIVE on 9GEM
Melbourne – 7.30pm LIVE on 9GEM
Adelaide – 7.00pm LIVE on 9GEM
Perth – 5.30pm LIVE on 9GEM