New Zealand vs. Tonga
MATCH UP STATS
New Zealand vs. Tonga
RLWC outright oddsNew Zealand: $7.50 at William HillTonga: $13 at William Hill
TOP spot in Group B is on the line as New Zealand and Tonga lock horns in one of the most fascinating matchups of the 2017 Rugby League World Cup.
While both teams are guaranteed passage to the quarter-finals, Saturday’s result will determine who lands on the safer side of the knockout draw.
The victor will face the third-placed team from Group A, which is almost certain to be Lebanon unless France can spring a massive upset over England on Sunday.
The loser will have to tackle Group D winners Fiji, who have stormed into the last eight with big results against Italy and the United States.
NZ have earned their favouritism with strong, disciplined performances in comfortable wins over Samoa and Scotland, led by a fearsome forward pack that includes the likes of Martin Taupau and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves.
There were some concerns about the Kiwis and their mental application heading into the tournament, but their defensive game has held up well so far.
Tonga, on the other hand, have taken the foot off the gas late in both of their group games after dominating the early exchanges.
They are extremely difficult to beat in the middle of the park, however, with Dally M winner Jason Taumalolo and NSW rep Andrew Fifita spearheading a tough and talented unit.
NZ squad and team news
New Zealand have made three changes to the team that trampled the Scots. Wingers Dallin Watene-Zelezniak and Jordan Rapana come in for Jason Nightingale and Peta Hiku, while Kodi Nikorima replaces Te Maire Martin at five-eighth.
New Zealand team: Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, Dean Whare, Brad Takairangi, Jordan Rapana, Kodi Nikorima, Shaun Johnson, Martin Taupau, Thomas Leuliai, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Simon Mannering, Joseph Tapine, Adam Blair (c).
Interchange – Nelson Asofa-Solomona, Russell Packer, Isaac Liu, Danny Levi.
Reserves – Kenny Bromwich, Te Maire Martin, Elijah Taylor, Peta Hiku.
Tonga squad and team news
Konrad Hurrell has earned a recall after sitting out the win against Samoa. He replaces Solomon Kate, while Sione Katoa takes over from Siliva Havili in the number nine jersey.
Tonga team: Will Hopoate, Daniel Tupou, Michael Jennings, Konrad Hurrell, David Fusitu’a, Tuimoala Lolohea, Mafoa’aeata Hingano, Andrew Fifita, Siona Katoa, Sio Siua Taukeiaho, Manu Ma’u, Sika Manu (c), Jason Taumalolo.
Interchange – Siliva Havili, Sam Moa, Peni Terepo, Ben Murdoch-Masila.
Reserves – Mahe Fonua, Manu Vatuvei, Ukuma Ta’ai, Tevita Pangai Jr.
Best bets for first tryscorer
Jordan Rapana (+700 at William Hill) – The Canberra Raider’s agility and turn of foot will be difficult to contain. Also, he commits fewer clangers than DWZ on the opposite flank.
Michael Jennings (+1400 at Ladbrokes) – He might be a couple of years past his prime, but vast experience in State of Origin and the Kangaroos squad make Jennings the pick of the Tongan threats.
Value picks for anytime tryscorer
Kodi Nikorima (+200 at William Hill) – Nikorima emerged as a real fix-it man for the Brisbane Broncos in NRL 2017, and a key feature was his ability to hit the line from the halves when needed.
Jason Taumalolo (+350 at William Hill) – If Tonga upstage their Pacific cousins on Saturday, it would be no great surprise to see their superstar lock on the score sheet at some stage.
NZ vs. Tonga match prediction
What makes this matchup so exciting is the strength and quality of the forward muscle on both sides. But while the Kiwis have shown great focus, Tonga’s concentration over 80 minutes has left much to be desired. Expect a gripping tussle with NZ pulling away in the second half to win by a couple of tries.
New Zealand by 13+ points – +125 at William Hill