RLWC: New Zealand v Fiji Preview
New Zealand v Fiji
Wellington Regional Stadium
Saturday, 7.30pm (5.30pm AEDT)
Pre-tournament few could have predicted they would meet at this stage of the Rugby League World Cup, but New Zealand v Fiji shapes as being one of the most exciting quarter-finals on offer this weekend.
The Bati cruised through pool play with three comfortable wins and are in top form right now, downing Italy 38-10 with a late flurry of points last week.
New Zealand on the other hand consigned themselves to a second-place finish in Pool B with a shock 28-22 defeat to Tonga, collapsing spectacularly in the second half of the historic loss.
As a result Kiwis coach David Kidwell has made a couple of key changes, with veteran Thomas Leuluai dropped from his 17 and Danny Levi starting at hooker after playing the first three games off the bench.
Kodi Nikorima assumes the utility spot on the bench and North Queensland Cowboys stand-off Te Maire Martin gets the nod at five-eighth.
In what has been a theme of their tournament so far, Fiji have maintained a settled line-up with the only change seeing Ben Nakubuwai replace James Storer on the interchange for coach Mick Potter.
Why New Zealand can win: Aside from 20 minutes against Tonga last week, New Zealand's defensive resilience has been impressive at this World Cup, particularly when subjected to prolonged periods up against their own line, and in their first two and a half games the Kiwis leaked only three tries. Fiji are yet to be tested against top-quality opposition and if New Zealand can frustrate them, it's likely errors will start to occur and the tournament co-hosts will be able to get an advantage in the arm wrestle.
Why Fiji can win: Their attack has been somewhat incredible, with an average of 56 points scored through their three pool games, along with a colossal 38 total line breaks. The Bati have scored tries from all over the park this World Cup, and are equally adept at running through the defence as they are around it. Their right edge shapes as the biggest threat to New Zealand, with centre-wing combination Taane Milne and Suliasi Vunivalu scoring 12 tries between them already.
The History: Saturday night will be the first time these two sides have met in a Test match. Fiji will become the 12th nation New Zealand have faced at Test level, while it will be Fiji's 14th different opponent.
Match officials: Referee: Matt Cecchin. Touch judges: Chris Kendall, Michael Wise. Video referee: Bernard Sutton.
Televised: Channel Seven – Live from 5:00pm. Sky Sports – Live coverage from 7.00pm.
NRL.com predicts: The respective styles of these two teams should ensure there are points aplenty in this one, with the game to be decided in key discipline areas on and off the ball. The Kiwis will be desperate to make amends for last week's loss and should be too good for Fiji. New Zealand by eight.