PREVIEW: New Zealand v Fiji

Adam Blair

New Zealand will be hoping to bounce back from defeat to Tonga last week against a fearless Fiji outfit who have nothing to lose on Saturday.

The Kiwis were stunned last week as they lost 28-22 to Tonga, despite being 16-2 up at the half-time interval. The result was the first time a Tier Two nation had ever defeated a Tier One side.

New Zealand have been impressive in the World Cup so far though, easing past Samoa and Scotland in the earlier rounds and they will be keen to prove to people that they are still a force to be reckoned with and that they are still targeting winning the tournament.

Meanwhile, Fiji have gone under the radar in the tournament, due to Tonga grabbing the headlines with three wins from three in the ‘group of death’, which consisted of New Zealand, Samoa and Scotland.

The Bati are one of the most exciting teams to watch in the world, at both club and international level.

They have scored more points than any other side during the group stages and have scored tries for fun at times, with them having thrashed USA, Wales and Italy in Group D.

You could argue that Fiji haven’t come up against the most challenging of teams so far but you can only play what you come up against. What is striking through is the fact that they don’t slacken off when they are so far in front like we see so many teams do. They continue to attack and don’t sit back which is admirable.

It will be the first time the sides have met in a World Cup so there is all to play for. New Zealand will want to bounce back from defeat but Fiji have nothing to lose and will surely go into the game all guns blazing.

KEY BATTLE

There will be a number of key battles all over the park but the one that catches our eye is between New Zealand’s Jordan Rapana and Fiji’s Suliasi Vunivalu. Rapana has been one of the best wingers in the NRL over the last couple of years, scoring 52 tries in 71 games for Canberra Raiders. He is one of the best finishers in the world.

Vunivalu, alongside England’s Jermaine McGillvary, has been one of the best wingers in the 2017 Rugby League World Cup so far. He is only 21-years-old but he is very powerful when taking the ball in. He has a clean pair of heels too and is the tournament’s top try-scorer at the minute with eight in just three games.

ONES TO WATCH

Kiwis head coach David Kidwell has handed Danny Levi a starting spot for the first time so far in the tournament and you can’t blame him because Levi is a great, traditional hooker. The Newcastle Knights star likes to take on the defence from the dummy-half role and isn’t shy of getting stuck in.

The one to watch for Fiji is Levi’s opposite number, Api Koroisau. The Manly Sea Eagles star has been one of the Bati’s best players so far and plays a similar style to Levi. He was loverugbyleague.com’s man of the match last week in their win over Italy because he covered every blade of grass. He is a work horse and it will be interesting to see how he plays against Levi.

THE TEAMS

NEW ZEALAND: 1. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, 2. Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, 3. Dean Whare, 4. Brad Takairangi, 5. Jordan Rapana, 6. Te Maire Martin, 7. Shaun Johnson, 8. Martin Taupau, 9. Danny Levi, 10. Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, 11. Simon Mannering, 12. Joseph Tapine, 13. Adam Blair (C). Subs: 14. Nelson Asofa-Solomona, 15. Russell Packer, 16. Isaac Liu, 17. Kodi Nikorima. Reserves: 18. Kenny Bromwich, 19. Jason Nightingale, 20. Peta Hiku, 21. Addin Fonua-Blake.

FIJI: 1. Kevin Naiqama (C), 2. Suliasi Vunivalu, 3. Taane Milne, 4. Akuila Uate, 5. Marcelo Montoya, 6. Jarryd Hayne, 7. Henry Raiwalui, 8. Ashton Sims, 9. Api Koroisau, 10. Eloni Vunakece, 11. Viliame Kikau, 12. Brayden Wiliame, 13. Tui Kamikamica. Subs: 14. Joe Lovodua, 15. Jacob Saifiti, 16. Junior Roqica, 17. Ben Nakubuwai. Reserves: 18. James Storer, 19. Salesi Faingaa, 20. Sitiveni Moceidreke, 21. Pio Sokobalavu.

MATCH OFFICIALS

Referee – Matt Cecchin, Touch Judges – Chris Kendall & Michael Wise, Video Referee – Bernard Sutton.

THE FAVOURITE

New Zealand are the slight favourites to win this one and progress to the quarter-finals but we are tipping this to be one of the closest games at the tournament yet. It will be full of big hits and it is set to be an entertaining spectacle. Loverugbyleague.com predicts the Kiwis by eight points.

You can watch the game LIVE on Premier Sports at 06:30am on Saturday 18 November.

How do you see the game going? Who will win? Let us know in the comments below.

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