New Zealand v Samoa
Mount Smart Stadium
Saturday, 6.10pm AEST, 8.10pm NZT
New Zealand and Samoa will meet for just the fourth time in their history when they kick off their World Cup campaigns this Saturday at Mount Smart Stadium in Auckland.
Several of the players who will take the field in the Group B match are dual New Zealand-Samoa internationals, showcasing the close bond the two nations share.
New Zealand will have Brad Takairangi, Nelson Asofa-Solomona, Isaac Liu and Danny Levi making their Kiwis debut, while Kodi Nikorima and Shaun Johnson will play in the halves together for the first time.
The Samoa squad is made up predominantly of players who are already capped at international level and includes veteran campaigners Frank Pritchard and Ben Roberts, along with 2017 Queensland representative Josh Papali'i.
Why Samoa can win: Samoa have improved every time they have played New Zealand, most recently a narrow 14-12 loss three years ago which should give them the confidence to believe they can knock over the World No.2 side. After suffering a 54-point loss to the Kiwis in 2010, Samoa lost by only 18 when they met New Zealand three years later, before taking the Kiwis all the way at the 2014 Four Nations in an eventual two-point defeat. History suggests Samoa are more than capable.
Why New Zealand can win: Class and current form in the halves. Both Shaun Johnson and Kodi Nikorima are coming off full NRL campaigns where they were among the top performers for their respective clubs. Both players are a genuine running threat, having made nine line breaks each in 2017, and between them they set up 23 tries and scored 11. Conversely Samoa's halves will be made up of Joseph Paulo, who came off the bench in all 10 of his NRL appearances this year, and Ben Roberts, who has been in strong form in the Super League but won't be familiar with the style most of his NRL-based teammates and opponents will play.
The History: Played 3; Samoa 0; New Zealand 3. This will be the second time these two teams have met in a World Cup, with New Zealand winning 42-24 at the 2013 edition in England. The Kiwis hosted Samoa at this week's venue in their first ever head-to-head Test meeting seven years ago, with New Zealand running out 50-6 winners on that occasion.
Match officials: Referee: James Child. Sideline officials: Michael Wise and Tim Roby. Review official: Bernard Sutton.
Televised: Channel 7 – Live coverage from 6.10pm. Sky Sports NZ – Live coverage from 8.10pm.
NRL.com predicts: While both sides are likely to show a little rust given it's their first competitive hit-out, you can expect it to be an open match with plenty of exciting plays on both sides of the ball. The battle in the middle will be tough and closely contested, but in the end the Kiwis' class in the spine should come through. New Zealand by 14.
This article first appeared on nrl.com