Mad Monday: Samoa versus Tonga is better than Origin

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    The tournament picture has become a little bit clearer after the second week of the Rugby League World Cup with Australia, New Zealand and Tonga all confirming their place in the final eight.

    The big three of Australia, New Zealand and England all enjoyed victories while the passion of Polynesia took centre stage in Hamilton. Meanwhile, Papua New Guinea and Fiji both had wins and Italy kept their slim chances of a quarter-finals finish alive.

    Samoa versus Tonga is better than Origin
    Samoa and Tonga went to battle in international rugby league’s biggest rivalry with plenty of passion involved.

    Fans of Toa Samoa and Mate Ma’a Tonga descended on the city of Hamilton, packing out the ground and providing a brilliant atmosphere. After a pre-game featuring a prayer between the two teams and a combined war cry, the fierce battle lived up to the hype.

    Daniel Tupou Tonga

    (NRLPhotos)

    Both forward packs made significant gains in the middle of the park with Tonga striking first through Michael Jennings. The match was locked in a stalemate with Mate Ma’a leading 14-6 at the break, the sea of red breaking through in the second term.

    With Tonga eventually triumphing 32-18 to secure a quarter-finals berth, it highlighted the rivalry between the Pacific islands and its potential to become a mainstay on the rugby league calendar.

    As the NRL holds a standalone weekend for State of Origin from next year, the opportunity for a test between Samoa and Tonga to be played in Auckland looms and form a major part of the rugby league season.

    Race among big three remains wide open
    Australia and New Zealand both posited impressive performances, dominating their opposition while England managed to string a win against Lebanon.

    The Australians were pushed early on by France however the host nation proved their world No.1 status leading from the front to record a 52-6 victory.

    Wade Graham inspired the green and gold after scoring four tries with Cameron Munster sparking the Australian attack as Jordan McLean, Josh McGuire provided plenty of go-forward.

    It wasn’t all doom and gloom for the tricolours with Mark Kheirallah having a night to remember after scoring France’s lone try in scintillating fashion, going the length of the field.

    New Zealand have suddenly transformed into a serious World Cup contender after an impressive 74-6 result against Scotland. It comes just under a year since the two sides drew 18-all at Workington during last year’s Four Nations tournament.

    Te Maire Martin and Shaun Johnson showed plenty of composure in the halves with Roger Tuivasa-Sheck making game-breaking gains at the back. The New Zealand pack dominated in the middle of the park with Nelson Asofa-Solomona, Addin Fonua-Blake and Martin Taupau all putting in spirited performances.

    Having recorded big wins in both of their matches, New Zealand go into next week’s match against Tonga in good spirits with plenty of confidence in camp.

    England made their way into the winner’s circle against Lebanon winning 29-10 in Sydney. It wasn’t the greatest of performances for the Poms with the Cedars putting in a strong showing.

    Lebanon were resilient with a strong defensive line that England struggled to crack despite holding the lion’s share of possession. Widdop and Gale failed to captivate any scintillating plays leaving the forward pack to run the show.

    Wayne Bennett will be looking for a marked improvement next week against France as England look to confirm their place in the knockout stages.

    Melanesian nations one step closer to finals berth
    Both Papua New Guinea and Fiji proved too good for their northern hemisphere rivals taking a step closer to the knockout stages.

    The Kumuls were on the back foot early on in Port Moresby as Ireland took control of the game early on however, as the home side got their share of possession they began to dominate turning the tables to lead 8-6 at half-time.

    The game was held at a stalemate for much of the second half with errors leading to missed opportunities for both sides. The Kumuls got their lucky break late in the game to secure a 14-6 win and take a step closer to a spot on top of Group C.

    The Bati were too strong for Wales, outclassing them 72-6.

    They displayed plenty of spark in the backline and never gave the Welsh a chance dominating for the full 80 minutes.

    Suliasi Vunivalu continued his form with a hat trick while Viliame Kikau was gigantic with a double in a gut busting performance.

    Fiji have a mountain to climb though after James Tedesco guided Italy to a 46-0 win over the United States making Friday night’s clash in Canberra a do-or-die affair.

    James Tedesco Italy Rugby League World Cup 2017

    (NRL Photos / Scott Davis)

    There is a need for neutral referees
    While the Rugby League World Cup has demonstrated the significant advancements made in the game globally, refereeing has been a serious concern with a lack of neutral officiating.

    If international rugby league is to be treated with the respect it deserves, games involving major nations such as Australia, New Zealand and England must be refereed by an independent party.

    Instead of placing Henry Perenara in charge of New Zealand versus Scotland and Ben Thaler at the helm of England versus Lebanon, it makes logical sense to have an Englishman or Australian refereeing New Zealand and vice versa.

    It is understandable in incidences such as Australia versus England whereby the only neutral referees available are Chris McMillan and Henry Perenara however for all other matches, there are enough match officials available to allow for neutral referees.

    Team of the week
    1. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (New Zealand) – Running for over 200 metres, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck had a field day against Scotland. The Kiwis fullback was instrumental making three line breaks and four try assists.
    2. Garry Lo (Papua New Guinea) – Lo was at his best for the Kumuls scoring a try and breaking the line on numerous occasions.
    3. Michael Jennings (Tonga) – Jennings has cemented his claim as the tournament’s form centre with another two tries to lead the competition.
    4. Josh Dugan (Australia) – Josh Dugan had another strong showing against France, scoring a try and running for over 100 metres in Australia’s 52-6 win.
    5. Peta Hiku (New Zealand) – Hiku pulled together a hat trick of tries running for over 200 metres.
    6. James Tedesco (Italy) – Shifting from fullback due to the absence of Campese, Tedesco made himself at home in the halves running for 216 metres and scoring two tries.
    7. Ata Hingano (Tonga) – Hingano discovered new found creativity against Samoa, steering Tonga around the park with two try assists in their 32-18 victory.
    8. Russell Packer (New Zealand) – Russell Packer had a field day against Scotland running for 173 metres and scoring a try.
    9. Joey Tramontana (Italy) – The Bulldogs young gun was explosive for the Italians in their win over the United States, enjoying a double and providing plenty on defence with 34 tackles.
    10. Sio Siua Taukeiaho (Tonga) – Taukeiaho made massive metres for Tonga with 272 metres from 24 hit-ups as well as 21 tackles in a gut-busting effort.
    11. Wade Graham (Australia) – The backrower produced a massive performance with four tries and a great defensive display in just his second game for the green and gold.
    12. Viliame Kikau (Fiji) – Kikau was enormous in an 80 minute performance that saw him run for 162 metres and pick up two tries. He led the Fijian pack from the front in their 72-6 demolition of Wales.
    13. Leeson Ah Mau (Samoa) – Running for over 100 metres and making 32 tackles, Leeson Ah Mau was a workhorse in 80 minutes for Samoa.

    14. Cameron Munster (Australia) – Munster stepped into the green and gold No.7 on debut with an inspired performance that saw him orchestrate the Kangaroos’ attack scoring two tries and having a hand in a further three.
    15. Jordan McLean (Australia) – McLean was a strong performer in the Australian forward pack, standing tall in their victory over France.
    16. Joseph Tapine (New Zealand) – Tapine continued his run of form for the Kiwis playing a key role in the forward pack with a try to his name and some outstanding hit-ups.
    17. Manu Ma’u (Tonga) – Ma’u put in an outstanding effort over 80 minutes, scoring a try and running for nearly 200 metres.