Preview: PNG v Fiji
Papua New Guinea will be quietly confident of springing an upset over the more fancied Fiji in the first game of Saturday's Pacific Test Invitational double-header at Campbelltown.
The Kumuls reached the quarter-finals of last year's World Cup before bowing out with a 36-6 loss to eventual finalists England, and this 2018 team looks a little stronger on paper.
PNG coach Michael Marum will be banking on NRL-based stars like Nene Macdonald and James Segeyaro to lead the way for their lesser known teammates against the flamboyant Fijians.
Fiji upstaged New Zealand in the quarter-finals of the 2017 World Cup, winning 4-2 before being humbled 54-6 by Australia in the semi-final.
Lining up for the Matt Adamson-coached Bati are big-name players Jarryd Hayne and Suliasi Vunivalu.
Match: Papua New Guinea v Fiji
Round 1 -
Papua New Guinea
Venue: Campbelltown Stadium
- Nine Network
- Fox League
- LIVE PASS
Key match-up: Normally a back-up hooker for the Sydney Roosters, Kurt Baptiste will man the all-important five-eighth role for PNG, directly opposite Hayne, who has shown he can play anywhere in the backline in the NRL. The Kumuls will be counting on former Bronco and Raider Baptiste to out-wit Hayne and provide direction in attack, while Segeyaro has the ability to cause problems for Fiji with his sneaky darts from dummy-half.
For the Kumuls to win: As much as they will be depending on Macdonald, Segeyaro, Baptiste, Rhyse Martin and Justin Olam, PNG need their lesser lights to shine. The Kumuls are known heavy hitters in defence but must pace themselves to avoid being out of gas by the 60-minute mark. Can definitely cause a minor boilover if they have the belief.
For the Bati to win: No question, the Fijians certainly have the superior team on paper in terms of talent and NRL experience. And advancing to the final four of last year's World Cup was a huge achievement. Both those factors should equate to confidence but it could also lead to complacency. The Bati have to meet the Kumuls' aggression in the forwards and provide room for Hayne to create chances for his speedy backline.
And another thing: While Fiji are stacked with NRL players, nine of the Kumuls' 18-man squad hail from the PNG Hunters, which should be a good thing in terms of on-field chemistry. The Hunters are the reigning premiers of Queensland's Intrust Super Cup, which they joined in 2014, missing only one finals series in four seasons. One of the Kumuls' Sydney-based players is Lachlan Lam - son of former Roosters halfback Adrian Lam.
Papua New Guinea v Fiji, Saturday 4pm at Campbelltown Stadium
Papua New Guinea: 1 Justin Olam, 2 Junior Rau, 3 Thompson Teteh, 4 Willie Minoga, 5 Richard Pandia, 6 Lachlan Lam, 7 Watson Boas, 8 Stanton Albert, 9 James Segeyaro (c), 10 Luke Page, 11 Rhyse Martin, 12 Nixon Putt, 13 Rod Griffin
Interchange: 14 Kurt Baptiste, 15 Rhadley Brawa, 16 Enock Maki, 17 Ase Boas
Reserve: 18 Nene Macdonald
Fiji: 1 Kevin Naiqama (c), 2 Suliasi Vunivalu, 3 Akuila Uate, 4 Tyrone Phillips, 5 Marcelo Montoya, 6 Henry Raiwalui, 7 Jarryd Hayne, 8 Kane Evans, 9 Joe Lovodua, 10 Tui Kamikamica, 11 King Vuniyayawa, 12 Junior Salesi Fainga, 13 Jayson Bukuya
Interchange: 14 Eloni Vunakece, 15 Pio Seci, 16 Sitiveni Moceidreke, 17 Pio Sokobalavu.
Reserves: 18 Mikaele Ravalawa, 19 Junior Roqica
Steve Turner's prediction: Both teams lit up the 2017 Rugby League World Cup through their passion and love from their fans. They both featured in the finals and will look to that experience once again for this weekend's fixture. Fiji's backline is impressive and this is where they'll look to outplay their opposition this week. PNG will play with plenty of passion and will give their all this weekend, but with little NRL experience in their side, they will find it hard to record a victory. TIP: Fiji by 8