The International weekend of Rugby League starts with a truly enticing battle between New Zealand and Tonga. It's hard to forget Tonga's incredible comeback in the 2017 World Cup meeting as they stormed home from 16-2 down to upset the Kiwis 28-22. I'm sure New Zealand haven’t forgotten and that will only spice up this encounter.
(Saturday, Jun 22 3:41pm)
Tonga will again be led by Jason Taumalolo, who's in superb touch for the Cowboys at the moment. He does lead a forward pack that will be without Andrew Fifita after he picked up a 3 game suspension on the weekend. So they will need the likes of Tevita Pangai jnr and Siosiua Taukeiaho to set up and fill the void. Interestingly, John Asiata has switched to Tonga from Samoa and will lineup in the halves with Tuimoala Lolohea.
New Zealand's 19 man squad is looking very strong as it's heavily dominated with players from the heavy weights of the NRL in the Storm and Roosters. Starting with the forward pack, you have the experience of Jesse Bromwich and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves back from suspension along with the sometimes unstoppable Nelson Asofa-Solomona. Along with James Fisher-Harris and the underrated Kenny Bromwich. In the outside backs, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck will be dangerous at fullback as usual and the likes of Joseph Manu/Ken Maumalo are in great touch for their respective NRL sides. The Kiwis have opted for experience after selecting Benji Marshall for his first appearance in Test matches since 2012. He'll likely partner Shaun Johnson in the halves.
Ultimately, Tonga are a dangerous side with Taumalolo in career best form and they're going to be heavily motivated at Mt Smart Stadium, where the crowd goes ballistic for this team. But New Zealand have picked a very strong team and I think they will be hard to stop in attack if their forward pack can overcome the Tongan pack. In the end, I can't see a huge margin between these two rivals and that should see this margin finish under 10.5 points.
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