Tonga v Samoa preview

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Tonga Men v Samoa Men Monday 1:30am at Halliwell Jones Stadium, Warrington

Pacific Rivals To Face Off In Much Anticipated Quarter Final Clash

There's no question that Tonga and Samoa have been two of the most improved teams over the last decade or so when it comes to International Rugby League

It is impossible to talk about Tonga's meteoric rise through the ranks without mentioning their 16-12 boilover win against Australia in 2019. Or when they were 2 points/a bunker decision away (depending on who you ask) from creating history and qualifying for their first ever World Cup Final in 2017 by beating England. 

Samoa on the other hand have been a little more up and down. If they happen to come away with the win against Tonga it'll be their first time advancing as far as the Semi-Final. Their last couple of World Cup campaigns have been underwhelming to say the least, and a terrible start to 2022 had Samoa fans swearing they'd seen this movie before.

They appear to have turned things around though, with crushing victories against Greece and France securing a quarter final berth. How legitimate this apparent reversal of form is will be shown against a Tongan side which, despite going undefeated through the group stage, still don't seem as if they've reached their potential. 

While it's hard to say who's going to win, anyone who's even vaguely kept up to date with the international game knows that the passion and emotion on show from both sets of players - before, during and after the game, will be unmatched. When you get the chance, google the pre-match war cries from the Tonga v Samoa game in 2017 and try not to get goosebumps.

For us, it may just be a game of Rugby League, but for these fans and players it is so much more, and whoever does get the win will be hard to stop in the semi-final almost on energy alone. 

But back to the actual footy. Tonga, as alluded to previously, haven't been all that convincing in their three wins. They needed a last minute try to get past Fiji and were nowhere near as clinical as they should've been against Wales. They did put the Cook Islands to the sword in Week 3 in what Tongans everywhere will be hoping was a sign that the team is peaking at the right time. 

Samoa put their disastrous start against England behind them with convincing wins against Greece and France, but should we really be all that impressed? We won't truly be able to say until early Monday morning (AEDT), but one thing that does perhaps warrant some optimism is the performances of Jarome Luai, who secured two Man of the Match awards. One area Samoa does have a clear advantage over Tonga is established halves play, and if Luai can produce a similar effort it will go a long way to overcoming the slight disadvantage they have up front.

Last RLWC meeting: 2017, Pool B - Samoa 18 Tonga 32, Hamilton

Last meeting: 2018 Pacific Test - Tonga 38 Samoa 22, Campbelltown

Who to watch: Based on their 92-10 demolition job on the Cook Islands the other day, the question should perhaps be "who not to watch." But it isn't, so I will say that Isaiya Katoa is the Tongan to keep an eye on. Historically, Tonga's weakness has been in the halves, and it's prevented them from taking that extra step and becoming a truly elite Rugby League playing nation. Enter Isaiya Katoa? The 18-year-old is coming off a phenomenal year in various Penrith lower grades and has had a sound if not spectacular World Cup so far (he has only played the two games mind you). Despite his young age, Katoa has shown a maturity beyond his years in the little football I have seen from him. He was able to lead the reserves to the Panthers reserves to an unlikely win against the Bears in week 1 of the NSW cup finals series in a game that he dominated in attack, while he also slotted the premiership winning field goal for the Panthers Jersey Flegg team. If Katoa can kick on, Tonga's halves problem could be halfway solved (no pun intended). A standout performance on Monday would be considered a bonus, but an extremely welcome one. 

He had all the hype in the world coming into first grade in the NRL, and in his first full season as a starter he somehow managed to exceed it. Joseph Suaali'I has made it clear he is going to be a special Rugby League player for years to come, but he is yet to dominate as a fullback as he has on the wing and in the centres. Sure, he played well in Samoa's routing of some smaller Rugby League playing nations, but cast your mind back to opening day and watching the young star in the custodian role did not make for pretty viewing (unless you're an England fan), coming up with a number of poor defensive reads that contributed to the blowout scoreline. The poor performance will no doubt have been eating away at Suaali'I, and he will be eager to make amends in his next clash against a team of similar calibre to his own. Whichever forward pack gets the upper hand in this one will be critical in determining who comes out on top on the scoreboard, and Suaali'i's kick returns will do a lot for helping Samoa's cause, especially if he can make some of his signature tackle breaks along the way.

The favourite: The market has this one extremely close by World Cup Standards, Tonga favoured but only by 3.5 points at the time of writing.

My tip: This is one that Australian footy fans should seriously consider sacrificing their sleep schedule for. Both sides are quite evenly matched and have everything to play for. For mine, Tonga just have that little bit of extra class that will see them home. Tonga by 8. 

1. Will Hopoate 2. Daniel Tupou 4. Viliami Penisini 19. Moses Suli 5. Sione Katoa 24. Isaiya Katoa 7. Tuimoala Lolohea 8. Addin Fonua-Blake 9. Siliva Havili 17. Moeaki Fotuaika 11. Felise Kaufusi 12. Keaon Koloamatangi 13. Jason Taumalolo 10. Siosiua Taukeiaho 14. Soni Luke 18. David Fifita 21. Ben Murdoch-Masila 6. Talatau Amone

1. Joseph Suaalii 2. Taylan May 4. Stephen Crichton 25. Tim Lafai 5. Brian To'o 6. Jarome Luai 7. Anthony Milford 15. Royce Hunt 9. Danny Levi 10. Junior Paulo 11. Ligi Sao 12. Jaydn Su'A 23. Oregon Kaufusi 8. Josh Papali'i 17. Martin Taupau 20. Chanel Harris-Tavita 22. Kelma Tuilagi 21. Fa'amanu Brown

Referees: Ashley Klein; Sideline Officials: Robert Hicks, Kasey Badger; Video Referees: Ben Thaler;

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