PREVIEW: Tonga v England

(Image credit - englandrl.co.uk)

England will be hoping to go one better than 2013 and progress to the final of the 2017 Rugby League World Cup but standing in their way is a passionate Tonga side.

A Shaun Johnson try for New Zealand snatched the win away from the Three Lions in the dying seconds at Wembley in the last World Cup, with the final outcome being 20-18 to the Kiwis.

But England have been very impressive this time around, winning three games out of four. They just fell short to tournament favourites Australia in the opening weekend but have beat Lebanon 29-10, France 36-6 and Papua New Guinea 36-6 since that first game.

But Wayne Bennett’s England side are in for a bumpy ride. They face a Tonga side jam-packed with NRL stars and play with a lot of passion.

And Tonga will effectively have home advantage at the Mt Smart Stadium in Auckland. This is because there is a huge Tongan population in the New Zealand city but there will be a couple of thousand England fans dotted around, too.

The Mate Ma’a are yet to lose a game in the World Cup. They thrashed Scotland 50-4 in the opening weekend while also edging past Samoa 32-18 and New Zealand 28-22 respectively in Group B, or what is commonly referred to as the group of death. They were made to work hard for the win in the quarter-finals by the remarkable Lebanon outfit, but Tonga just did enough as they ran-out 24-22 victors.

England and Tonga have, arguably, the biggest forward packs in the tournament so the game will probably be won and lost in the middle of the park.

KEY BATTLE

The battle that everyone is looking forward to is between Tonga star Jason Taumalolo and England captain Sean O’Loughlin. O’Loughlin has been one of the best players in Super League for a number of years and is a player who can hit hard but also has silky ball handling skills. He is massively important for England on Saturday.

His opposite number Taumalolo has been top drawer for Tonga so far though. He has been well-loved by the Tongan fans ever since he switched allegiance from New Zealand to Tonga. Players seem to struggle tackling him one-on-one and is regarded by many as the best forward in the world.

ONES TO WATCH

Daniel Tupou has certainly caught the eye of many in the tournament so far. The Sydney Roosters star has played over 100 NRL games and has a huge 6f 5in frame so England will need to look out for him, though they may need not look far. A fine finisher as well.

Kallum Watkins had a fantastic game against Papua New Guinea in the quarter-finals last week and was voted as loverugbyleague.com’s man of the match. His combination with Jermaine McGillvary has been to die for and Watkins’ footwork could cause Tonga a few problems on Saturday.

THE TEAMS

TONGA: 1. Will Hopoate, 2. Daniel Tupou, 3. Michael Jennings, 4. Konrad Hurrell, 5. David Fusitu’a, 6. Tui Lolohea, 7. Ata Hingano, 8. Andrew Fifita, 9. Siliva Havili, 10. Sio siua Taukeiaho, 11. Manu Ma’u, 12. Sika Manu (C), 13. Jason Taumalolo. Subs: 14. Sione Katoa, 15. Peni Terepo, 16. Tevita Pangai Junior, 17. Ben Murdoch-Masila. Reserves: 18. Sam Moa, 19. Manu Vatuvei, 20. Joe Ofahengaue, 21. Samisoni Langi.

ENGLAND: 1. Gareth Widdop, 2. Jermaine McGillvary, 3. Kallum Watkins, 4. John Bateman, 5. Ryan Hall, 6. Kevin Brown, 7. Luke Gale, 8. Chris Hill, 9. Josh Hodgson, 10. James Graham, 11. Sam Burgess, 12. Elliott Whitehead, 13. Sean O’Loughlin (C). Subs: 14. Alex Walmsley, 15. Tom Burgess, 16. Ben Currie, 17. James Roby. Reserves: 18. Jonny Lomax, 19. Chris Heighington, 20. Mark Percival, 21. Scott Taylor.

MATCH OFFICIALS

Referee – Matt Cecchin, Touch Judges – Chris Butler & Robert Hicks, Video Referee – Ben Thaler.

THE FAVOURITE

England are favourites to win the game and progress through to the final of the 2017 Rugby League World Cup but are only slight favourites. Tonga should not be underestimated at all unless they could come back to bite England where it hurts but loverugbyleague.com predict England by 12 points.

You can watch the game LIVE on BBC Two or Premier Sports at 5am on Saturday 25 November.

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

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