New Zealand vs Tonga Preview


This is going to be the game of the week. Two sides with two wins, going head to head for the Pool B leader spot. Neither side is really bothered about who finishes top of the group, they have a much bigger hidden agenda, Tonga are starting to emerge as a side that could push the tier 1 nations for a spot in the final, this will bring great cause for concern coming into this fixture. It's not as if the Kiwi's are low on confidence, it's more the fact that they are fully aware a Tongan win will only drive on their belief that they can reach the final.

New Zealand have got more than any enough talent in their ranks to go toe to toe with the Mate Ma'a and for the first time in a long time the same can be said about Tonga. These sides haven't met since 2009 which ended in a New Zealand win, in fact Tonga have never beaten New Zealand in any of their four previous meetings, their last meeting settled by just the one point. This time however has a different feel to the game, Tonga are a side playing with great skill and flair, this has given the ability to score from anywhere as they proved last week against Samoa.

Their forwards have played incredible so far and for some of them, this game in particular will mean a lot. A lot of this Tongan side have played for New Zealand in the past, the likes of: Taukeiaho, Taumololo, Lolohea and Hurrell to name a few. These guys will all be fired up and ready to potentially send ripples through the Rugby League World.

New Zealand: The Kiwi's have named a pretty much unchanged squad from game 1 of the tournament. Nikorima comes back into the side in the 6 jersey after being rested against Scotland. This has been done to compliment Johnson's play style, by having two running halves in the side the Kiwi's look to create an element of confusion for Tonga as there is now two players with very good footwork who can exploit tired forwards in attack.

New Zealand are going to look to create more chances out wide towards the back end of their attacking sets. Most sides will use their backs early in attack however the Kiwi's will use Taupau, Waerea-Hargreaves and Blair on the 2nd and 3rd tackles to relieve pressure, before sending the ball crossfield through the hands to try and create spaces on the fringes.

Tonga: As mentioned before, for the men who have previously donned the Kiwi badge, this game has a deeper meaning. They are playing for their heritage, their spiritual home and I think that this attitude has really benefited the Tongan's. Hingano and Lolohea have a lot to thank Johnson for, he was key in their development at the Warriors, expect big games from them as the students look to take on the teacher.

Tonga are going to start similar to last week, fast line speed, warm the hands up with plenty of passes and quick play the balls. If the Mate Ma'a can cut the early errors they could even be the team to strike first. Those first points will be key and could even be a contributing factor as to who wins the game, especially as Tonga are a confident side right now.

Conclusion: I can see this being a tight game. This will be at most a 10 point winning margin, which way it goes, I'm not 100%. My instincts are saying go with New Zealand, but this time I'm going to back Tonga, it's not going to be by much though and it will be a hard fought game by both sides. This game is going to be won by the team that comes up with the fewest errors, completion will be what gets the winner across the line. I'm going to say Tonga by 8 at most.

Pom

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