New Zealand vs Samoa Preview

New Zealand vs Samoa is set to be a gruelling affair, with the Kiwi's looking to reclaim their number 1 seed spot back from the Australian's. It's no great secret that this New Zealand team are not at their strongest, losing key players such as Bromwich and Proctor to national bans and arguably their biggest loss, Jason Taumololo to Tonga. Samoa will look to take advantage of this as they seek revenge for their Four Nations loss back in 2014 when these two sides last met, denied victory by a very late Shaun Kenny-Dowall try, in a 14-12 thriller in Whangerei.

New Zealand: The Kiwi's have brought the usual man mountains with them to help pick apart teams down the middle of the park. New Zealand live for the metaphorical arm wrestle, using the power and talent in their forwards to slowly but surely break down opponents, leading to points on the board. The Kiwi's bench is loaded with powerhouses ready to come on and take the big hit ups. Packer, Asofa-Solomona and Isaac Liu, all poised and prepared to cause trouble defensively down the middle, with explosive runs and lots of post contact metres. New Zealand's unpredictability can be their greatest strength or their biggest weakness, the unorthodox play style at times looks to even confuse their own players, resulting in dropped balls or a dead line move. The man that leads this play style? The talented Rugby League mind that is Shaun Johnson, with his off the cuff style and incredible footwork, he has very much felt like the driving force behind The Kiwi's for a long time and I feel that if New Zealand want to succeed and reclaim the number 1 spot, they need to get away from the attitude "It depends how Shaun Johnson plays". Occasions like this have highlighted how rocks and diamonds he can be, for example The 2013 Wolrd Cup, diamonds. However this years Anzac Test, rocks. I personally am a huge fan of Shaun Johnson, but I feel he is often burdened with too much pressure coming into the international stage, almost as if he is the only player that could win or lose the game for The All Blacks. If this can be ironed out and The Kiwi's bring their A-Game, you are looking at the that team could take the crown back from Australia.

Samoa: The Samoan's have brought their own big units in an effort to prevent the Kiwi's  from dominating the match down the middle of the pitch. Frank Pritchard, Josh Papalii and Junior Paulo are all players that have the ability to match up to their New Zealand opposite numbers, which will make this one of the most physical opening games of the weekend. Ken Maumalo has been handed the 5 jersey, he has had a very good season with the Warriors but has proven shakey defensively at times. New Zealand could look to expose and exploit Maumalo's wing for points through Watene-Zelezniak and Beale. I am pinpointing Ben Roberts as a key player for this game, Roberts enjoyed a fantastic season with Castleford, and was a key part in the teams success in 2017. Roberts has electric pace and ability to read a defensive line, leading to line breaks, which will make him a worrying site for exhausted forwards. Samoa are an emerging nation and have proven difficult opposition, immensely powerful forwards and pacey outside backs create a dangerous opposition that should not be underestimated by any opponent.

Conclusion: I see a very physical encounter ahead, filled with very strong attacking plays from both sides and incredible moments that will make the highlight reel. If Samoa can exploit these weaknesses we could potentially see the first upset of the competition, but the most likely outcome is a New Zealand win with a 4 to 10 points margin.

Pom

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