Rugby League doesn’t get much better than this coming Saturday night and the Triple Header Pacific Test Teams announced for the Triple Header shows why it is such a great event. PNG Kumuls v Cooks Islands. Fiji v Tonga. Samoa v England.
England’s arrival in the Pacific Test series is a first, but as a consequence we see the Cook Islands and have a third game so it’s all good.
Take a look through the lists and see why the recent changes in the eligibility for the second tier nations is a very good thing. And why next Saturday is one of the great nights of rugby league.
There’s a great mix of big name NRL stars, middle of road names you know, and up and coming players some haven’t heard of that will better for the experience of the better players being able to play in these games for the second tier nations.
Of course for us it will be all about the PNG Kumuls, and in particular our favourite Willie Minoga getting his big chance on national TV, but it will be hard not to get excited about all three of the clashes.
Below are the teams and a few thoughts on thse selected.
GAME 1 PNG KUMULS v COOK ISLANDS
Both of these sides are not full of NRL stars like other Pacific Nations teams, so the continuity of the Kumuls coming predominantly from the PNG Hunters Intrust Super Cup side will be a big advantage, and they’re in form.
Cook Islands are in their first Pacific Tests series, and lack a lot of big names,
PNG by 16
PNG KUMULS SIDE
Stargroth Amean – PNG Hunters
Justin Olam – Storm/SC Falcons
Nene McDonald – St George Dragons
Thompson Teteh – Redcliffe Dolphins
Adex Wera – PNG Hunters
Ase Boas – PNG Hunters
Watson Boas – PNG Hunters
Henry Wan – PNG Hunters
Wartovo Puara – PNG Hunters
Luke Page – PNG Hunters
Rhyse Martin – Canterbury Bulldogs
Rod Griffin – Canterbury Bulldogs
Stanton Albert – PNG Hunters
Tommy Butterfield – Easts Tigers
Wellington Albert – PNG Hunters
Willie Minoga – PNG Hunters
Nixon Put – PNG Hunters
Richard Pandia – Ipswich Jets
Well, as with any PNG Hunters side announcement, and even more so for the Kumuls we look to ensure that the big man, Gurgler favourite and 2015 Person of the Year Willie Minoga is selected. Confirmed on the bench wearing that number 16 jersey that first brought him to our attention in the Intrust Super Cup.
In fact the Kumuls have one major advantage over all other 5 Triple Header Pacific Test teams, and that is the continuity that a chunk of PNG Hunters being selected offers. Instead of players becoming acclimatised in a short time, the Hunters supplied 11 of the 18 players.
The side still features some players on the cusp of NRL but have yet to crack it like Justin Olam on the Sunshine Coast, and Bulldogs pair Rhyse Martin and Rod Griffin. These players will use the national attention to remind their club or others what they can provide.
Easts Tigers Tommy Butterfield gets his chance in the top 17, and deservedly so after being one the Intrust Super Cup’s best hookers. Wartovo Puara is a hard man to displace in the Kumuls side.
It is a really strong team, and we are hoping that leads to a big win. And that Willie Minoga puts on a show for the national audience.
COOK ISLANDS SIDE
1 Charnze Nicol-Klokstad -Warriors
2 Geoff Daniela – Illawarra
3 Esan Masters – West’s Tigers
4 Marata Niukore – Parramatta
5 Reuben Rennie – Mounties
6 Johnathan Ford – Toulouse
7 Isaac John – Mounties
8 Makahesi Makatoa – Canberra
9 Aaron Teroi – Newcastle (UK)
10 Uiti Baker – West Newcastle
11 Carne Doyle-Manga – Tweed Heads
12 Alex Glenn – Brisbane
13 Esra Howe Junior – Tweed Heads
14 Moses McGreal – Sunshine Coast
15 Sam Mataora – Newcastle
16 David Munro – Townsville
17 Reuben Porter – Sydney City
18 Kobe Tararo – Gold Coast
Alex Glenn is the big name in the squad as he leads the side, and the rest of the side comes from the second tier competitions. But that is the beauty of these Pacific Tests, they may unearth a future superstar who normally wouldn’t get any exposure.
They are one of the newest international teams so time is needed as this match is a great start.
GAME 2 – FIJI v TONGA
Plenty of points look likely from both sides, but the Tongans seem to have the edge in NRL experience and big names which we think will just get them over the line.
Tonga by 4.
Squad only in alphabetical order.
Waqa Blake (Penrith)
Kane Evans (Sydney Roosters)
Tui Kamikamica (Melbourne Storm)
Viliame Kikau (Penrith Panthers)
Apisai Koroisau (Manly Sea Eagles)
Taane Milne (St George Illawarra Dragons)
Marcelo Montoya (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs)
Sitiveni Moceidreke (South Sydney Rabbitohs)
Kevin Naiqama (Wests Tigers)
Ben Nakubuwai (Sunshine Coast)
Tyrone Phillips (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs)
Henry Raiwalui (Manly Sea Eagles)
Daniel Saifiti (Newcastle Knights)
Jacob Saifiti (Newcastle Knights)
Korbin Sims (Brisbane Broncos)
Tariq Sims (St George Illawarra Dragons)
James Storer (Illawarra)
Eloni Vunakece (Sydney Roosters)
Suliasi Vunivalu (Melbourne Storm)
It is a very strong looking Bati squad, no wonder so many look forward to these Pacific Tests.
A pair of brothers in Sims and Safiti provide a strong NRL presence along with the fearsome Kane Evans and the crafty Apisai Koroisau.
Plenty of speed in the backs too with Kevin Naiqama and Suliasi Vunivalu.
One players to watch will be Viliame Kikau who is in the Penrith system.
MATE MA’ TONGA SIDE
1. Will Hopoate – Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs
2. Daniel Tupou – Sydney Roosters
3. Konrad Hurrell – Gold Coast Titans
4. Brenko Lee – Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs
5. Moses Suli – Wests Tigers
6. Tuimoala Lolohea – New Zealand Warriors
7. Mafoa’aeata Hingano – New Zealand Warriors
8. Leilani Latu – Penrith Panthers
9. Siliva Havili – St George Illawarra Dragons
10. Addin Fonua-Blake – Manly Warringah Sea Eagles
11. Felise Kaufusi – Melbourne Storm
12. Tony Williams – Cronulla Sutherland Sharks
13. Joe Ofahengaue – Brisbane Broncos
14. Sione Katoa – Penrith Panthers
15. Patrick Kaufusi – North Queensland Cowboys
16. Leivaha Pulu – Gold Coast Titans
17. Siosaia Vave – Parramatta Eels
18. Samisoni Langi – Penrith Panthers
19. Sione Vea – Tongan Rugby League
A strong squad as ever, with big names Tony Williams, Will Hopoate, Tuimoala Lolohea and Daniel Tupou amongst the players named.
Throw in a couple of Kaufusi brothers, Broncos Joe Ofahenguae , and the Tongans have some huge units in their squad. Ouch for Fiji.
Almost a pity it isn’t Tonga v Samoa though to see the duelling pre game rituals.
GAME 3 – ENGLAND v SAMOA
England have the strongest squad on paper and the master coach Wayne Bennett in charge, but will the effort to bring so many down from the northern hemisphere be a factor? Especially as they have to contend with the size of Sam Kasiano and Josh Maguire, the skills of Anthony Milford and blockbusting of Joey Leilua and Tim Lafai.
Samoa by 6.
Squad only in alphabetical order.
Sean O’Loughlin (c)
A squad with knowns and unknowns. For those who don’t follow the Super League there will be a few names that will barely be recognisable. But there’s loads of NRL stars that most will know, but will probably not know that they were English or interested in being that.
An example of that is Chris Macqueen, who has the requisite amount of tattoos to be an English footballer (soccer) but who comes across as last being related to the English from the First Fleet. But how were we to know. Didn’t realise Chris H was either.
The English players that are recognisable by plenty are the Raiders dynamic duo Josh Hodgson and Elliott Whitehead, Gareth Widdop and James Graham, and the brothers Burgess. Thankfully they didn’t reward George’s awful form with an English jersey.
Sean O’Loughlin and Ryan Hall are names most who follow International rugby league should know, and we will see if the experience of players listed above will get England over the line against what will no doubt be a fired up Samoan team.
TOA SAMOA SQUAD
Squad only in alphabetical order.
Leeson Ah Mau – St George Illawarra Dragons
John Asiata – North Queensland Cowboys
Fa’amanu Brown – Cronulla Sutherland Sharks
Herman Ese’ese – Brisbane Broncos
Sam Kasiano – Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs
Tim Lafai – St George Illawarra Dragons
Joseph Leilua – Canberra Raiders
Isaac Liu – Sydney Roosters
Josh McGuire– Brisbane Broncos
Peter Mata’utia – Newcastle Knights
Sione Mata’utia – Newcastle Knights
Suaia Matagi – Parramatta Eels
Anthony Milford – Brisbane Broncos
David Nofoaluma – Wests Tigers
Kaysa Pritchard – Parramatta Eels
Sauaso Sue – Wests Tigers
Antonio Winterstein – North Queensland Cowboys
Broncos and England coach Wayne Bennett has been generous to allow two of his NRL side’s big players represent their Pacific heritage. Josh Maguire and Anthony Milford were both very good against Penrith on Thursday and will cause the English plenty of headaches.
Outside of the Brisbane big guns Sam Kasiano is the big name, and always puts in for Samoa. But others worth watching to see how they go on the international stage is John Asiata who proved his versatility and skills filling in for Jonathan Thurston, and the lively Eel Kaysa Prtichard. Throw in some Mata’utia brothers, Tim Lafai from the Dragons, and Sue and Nofoaluma from the Tigers amongst others, and England have some real competition.