Tonga vs Samoa Preview

What a game this is set to be, two huge pacific islander sides, ready to go to war. This clash is set to be one of the games of the tournament, both sides are fielding their best international squad for years in my honest opinion. The recent history books rule this fixture in Samoa's favour, with Samoa winning four of the last five meetings of these two sides, however this time the match has a really different feel about it. Tonga come into this game after a really strong showing against a gutsy Scottish side, and Samoa are playing of the back of a big loss to New Zealand. Confidence is a huge part of Rugby League and will be key in this match up, with both sides believing they can win this game. Samoa will definitely play on the fact that 80% of their last 5 meetings have gone in their favour. Using this to inspire their side, The Samoan's will also know that this is a must win game as a loss could put the rest of their tournament in jeopardy. If they do lose it would make next week's game against Scotland a decider as to who makes it into the next round. Tonga know that a win sees them through to the quarter finals comfortably, this will be a big mental boost for the Mate Ma'a as they look to assert themselves amongst the "tier 1 nations" as challengers.

Tonga: While there were a lot of positives to take from Tonga's performance against the Braveheart's, there was also some room for improvement. We'll start with their completion rate, 68% is not a good enough completion rate, if Tonga want to succeed they are going to have to get from tackle 1 to tackle 5 and kick, that is a basic in Rugby League. In their defence Tonga were throwing the ball around and experimenting, but their was a lot of unforced errors, this has to be removed from their game as Samoa will not let them of as lightly as The Scottish did. Tonga's defence wasn't really tested last week so it's going to be interesting how they hold up when challenged inside their own 20. Tonga have brought in Solomone Kata for Konrad Hurrel in the right centre, having a player like Kata on the fringes brings a new attacking edge to a side. David Fusitua joins Kata on the right, this means Vatuvei loses his spot in the team. This doesn't come as much a surprise as both Hurrel and Vatuvei didn't have particularly great games, Hurrel came up with a host of errors and the beast didn't impact the game whatsoever. Tonga will hope these changes bring a new threat to the game and put fear into the Samoan side. Tonga's forwards enjoyed plenty of metres last week, Manu Ma'u gets a special mention. He played 72 minutes in the second row racking up 135 metres and 20 tackles in the middle of the park. As predicted Taumalolo and Fifita had big games, it would have been more of a surprise if they didn't, they accumulated 344 running metres between them and 34 tackles. Tonga are going to use their flanks a lot more in this fixture, hoping to send playmakers to the line before popping the ball out the back, utilising big dummy runners to create spaces for the centres and second rowers to go at. If Tonga can create these kind of chances against Samoa, they will be sure to score points and certainly win the game, providing the handling from last week has improved.

Samoa: This game is a must win for Samoa, they don't want to have to rely on a win against Scotland to see them through. Tonga are going to take some beating but Samoa will feel they are up to the task. Samoa are certainly not short of talent, Jazz Tevaga put in a big shift against the Kiwi's, Tevaga made a total of 47 tackles and 43 metres from runs. His decision making was very good from dummy half, opting to run and dictating play for Samoa, this was like having an extra halfback on the field and gave Samoa extra depth in attack. Josh Papalii played the full 80 for Samoa and for me Papalii was Samoa's biggest threat going forward, the Canberra man was equally impressive defensively, making 24 tackles and 102 metres however he wasn't able to make any linebreaks. I get the feeling this will be a different story on Saturday, Papalii will no doubt see plenty of ball, it's just a question how the Tongan side answer when the big man knocks. Maumalo really impressed last week and he is going to have to bring his A game again, when he will be faced by many of his Warriors team mates. One thing that really impressed me was Maumalo's work ethic, he constantly came in looking for work, made sure he got to the ball before the bounce and looking for gaps to maximise his metres. 
I get the feeling Samoa will look to turn this into an up the middle game, using players like; Ah Mau, Ese'ese and Paulo to get Samoa rumbling down field, running strong lines and making good post contact metres. Roberts and Joseph Paulo have a great understanding, Roberts was the man to take the ball to the line and Paulo's job was to pick the right pass. Not many sides opt for this play style but I really enjoy watching it, this is a very traditional 6 & 7 way of operating and I would love to see more of it in the game. Tonga will be aware of this strategy now, which does mean they will press Roberts harder and be wary of where Paulo is at all times. 

Conclusion: I can't see this game disappointing fans or the audience of a neutral point of view, two sides that are desperate to get one up on the other. Samoa will try to tie this game up in the middle of the field and tire out the big Tongan pack. Tonga should be prepared for this and look to play a much wider game than Samoa, using Jennings and Kata's strength and pace to exploit gaps. It's going to be a close game that could go either way but I feel Tonga will edge this game by 6 points or more.

Pom

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