Fiji v USA preview

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Fiji v United States Saturday 8:40pm at 1300SMILES Stadium

The World Cup in recent years has brought some countries right to the forefront.

Fiji, the first Pacific nation to have a team sponsor, have had a highly successful relationship to the competition, placing themselves in the final four in the last two Cups. The United States on the other hand, entered their debut Cup in 2013 expected to just make up the numbers. Instead, they won their pool and managed a Quarter Final appearance. The two nations are coming, and the 2017 World Cup will be a major test to see if they can continue their runs in the event.

The Bati have participated in a mere five Test matches since the 2013 World Cup. They have been successful in three of these matches, most recently in May they fell 26-24 to the Tongan side they faced in Campbelltown. Fiji recently hosted a Tri-Nations tournament with Australia and Papua New Guinea. While they failed to win a match, Fiji showed glimpses of what they could possibly bring to the Cup.

Nobody has had a preparation period between the Cups like the Tomahawks. It's a standard in the tournament that Quarter Finalists are automatically qualified into the next tournament, but the standard was not met with the United States team. The national team was put on hold during the governance dispute between the AMNRL and USA Rugby League. Because of this, they lost their right to automatic qualification. Finally late in the season the USARL took control, hence the rebranding from the Tomahawks to the Hawks. Both of their qualifying matches were close, but the Hawks defeated Jamaica and Canada to qualify. Since the last World Cup they have only played Tests against the aforementioned two nations, winning seven of ten in the period.

Last meeting: Officially, Fiji and the United States have never met in a Test match before. But I've never let that stop me before, so I'll have to resort to some different kind of history. The most recent meeting of any kind was at the 1997 Super League World Nines. Fiji had a completely local side coached by Etuwate Waqa, whilst the United States had legendary locals such as long serving captain David Niu and Jeff Preston in the side. Fiji won the match 18-8. The two nations also met in the 1992 World Sevens tournament, which has some historical significance. Earlier in the year, Rugby League was only just introduced. 

Culden Kamea worked with the ARL to bring the side into the tournament, surprisingly knocking over even the Canberra Raiders. The team was made up of a combination of unknown locals and members of the Championship winning Rugby Union sevens team. Fiji also won this match to a score of 30-10.

Who to watch: Fiji have plenty of NRL experience coming into this tournament, many of their players coming off successful seasons. You could mention names like Jarryd Hayne, Apisai Koroisau and Akuila Uate, but we'll be going for Melbourne Storm's Premiership winning winger and top tryscorer of the year, Suliasi Vunivalu. Fiji have had a tradition for busting out some incredible outside backs in recent years and Vunivalu may just be the best of them. Already scoring 46 tries in 47 appearances for the Storm, Vunivalu made his Test debut earlier in the season and will be looking to add on to it in this tournament.

The United States come to the tournament with plenty of names the Australian media just will not know, but going on the 2013 World Cup, you cannot go past South Newcastle's Matt Shipway. Dubbed "the redheaded SBW" in the last Cup, Shipway's performances in the last Cup contributed majorly to their success, no doubt the country will be looking for him to replicate.

The favourite: On paper, Fiji have simply got too much for the United States to handle, and are heavy favourites.

My tip: I really want the Hawks to do well, due to the wonderful development work they've done in recent years. But Fiji are a different beast, especially when their stars come out to play. Expecting a Fijian win, with a comfortable margin. Bati by 20.

1. Kevin Naiqama 2. Suliasi Vunivalu 3. Taane Milne 4. Akuila Uate 5. Marcelo Montoya 6. Jarryd Hayne 7. Henry Raiwalui 8. Ashton Sims 9. Apisai Koroisau 10. Kane Evans 11. Viliame Kikau 18. Brayden Wiliame 13. Tui Kamikamica 14. Joe Lovodua 15. Jacob Saifiti 16. Eloni Vunakece 17. Ben Nakubuwai 20. Junior Roqica 21. Pio Seci

1. Corey Makelim 2. Ryan Burroughs 3. Junior Vaivai 4. Jonathan Alley 5. Bureta Faraimo 6. Kristian Freed 7. Tui Samoa 8. Eddy Pettybourne 9. David Marando 10. Mark Offerdahl 11. Danny Howard 12. Matt Shipway 13. Nicholas Newlin 15. Andrew Kneisly 16. Steve Howard 17. Gabriel Farley 19. Joe Eichner 18. Charles Joseph Cortalano 21. Joshua Rice

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