The Late Mail: New Zealand v Tonga
39 mins ago | LeagueUnlimited Media
More than 18 months after international action in the Pacific, the game resumes.
It's been a long drought for Pacific nations when it comes to international footy, but finally after countless lockdowns, pandemic cancellations and delays, the Kiwi Ferns and Mate Ma'a Tonga women will face off in Auckland this weekend, the first top level game of rugby league played in the country since the end of 2020 when both these sides featured as part of a double header at Mt Smart.
On that day, the Tongan women accounted for a hapless Niue women's side 66-8, while the Kiwi Ferns downed Fetu Samoa 28-8.
Fast forward to June 2022 and these sides have plenty to play for. The Kiwi Ferns are off to the Women's RLWC in England in November and together with the upcoming NRLW season, this will undoubtedly be an important tune-up for many of their players aiming to push for world supremacy later this year.
For the Tongan women, it's an opportunity to flex their muscle against a more prolific opponent, and push their claims for a spot in the 2025 edition of the World Cup in France. With the growth of popularity of the men's side for Tonga in the last half-a-decade, building the women's side up will ensure a strong future for the proud Pacific nation.
In team news, the Kiwi Ferns welcome several debtuants who've made impressive NRLW impact. Amy Turner, Page McGregor, Roxy Murdoch and Laishon Albert-Jones are all among the new faces in the national side. They are captained by dummy-half Krystal Rota.
For Tonga, five NRLW players make an appearance, with names like Tegan Dymock, Seli Mailangi, China Polata, Kalosipani Hopoate and Laikha Clarke all named.
Amelia Mafi is also in a pretty strong Tongan lineup - she last appeared in the NRLW during the 2020 season for runners-up Sydney Roosters.
Last meeting: These two nations have met just once before - a convincing victory for New Zealand at Sunshine Coast Stadium in 2008.
Who to watch: The battle of the dummy-halves will be important in this contest, with both Rota and Mailangi key features of their respective teams during the NRLW season. While neither the Knights (Rota) or Eels (Mailangi) progressed to the finals series in the 2021 season played recently, both got valuable experience at the elite level which will help them guide their respective nations this Saturday.
The favourite: The Kiwi Ferns are comfortably favoured to take out this contest.
My tip: The experience for the Kiwi Ferns tips the balance here. Tonga will be competitive but there is no getting past the New Zealand women on this one. Kiwi Ferns by 16.
1. Autumn-Rain Stephens-Daly 2. Madison Bartlett 3. Page McGregor 4. Amy Turner 5. Katelyn Vaha'akolo 6. Laishon Jones 7. Raecene McGregor 8. Annetta Nuuausala 9. Krystal Rota 10. Mya Hill-Moana 11. Roxy Murdoch 12. Ngatokotoru Arakua 13. Georgia Hale 14. Nita Maynard 15. Charlotte Scanlan 16. Kararaina Wira-Kohu 17. Christyl Stowers 18. Karli Hansen
1. Lavinia Tauhalaliku 2. Pier Pritchard 3. Haylee Hifo 4. Maatuleio Fotu-moala 5. Luisa Sekona 6. China Polata 7. Keisharn Hala 8. Tegan Dymock 9. Shirley Mailangi 10. Natasha Penitani 11. Kimberly Nikua 12. Shannon Muru 13. Katrina Latu 14. Monica Samita 15. Kalosipani Hopoate 16. Ana Taumalolo 17. Amelia Mafi 18. Noia Fotu-moala
Referees: Kasey Badger; Sideline Officials: Joseph Green, Rochelle Tamarua; Video Referees: Steve Chiddy;