New Zealand vs Tonga match preview: Pool B supremacy at stake

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    With the quarter-finals in our sights, it’s easy to forget that we still have another week of pool games on our hands. Regardless, the finals make-up is becoming clearer.

    From Group A, barring some monumental upsets, Australia, England and Lebanon will make it through in that order.

    From Group C, Papua New Guinea only have to beat the USA to ensure their qualification for the quarters, while Italy will have to beat Fiji by at least 46 points to qualify on for and against.

    In Group B, Samoa, Tonga and New Zealand will go through, but as to who will top the group and earn themselves arguably an easier path is still very much up in the air.

    Samoa have third place locked up, and will more than likely face the Kangaroos. Tonga and New Zealand meanwhile, will do battle on Saturday for the right to play Lebanon. Whoever wins this will fancy their chances. The loser, on the other hand, will likely face a red-hot Fiji – a much trickier proposition than facing the Cedars.

    Form
    New Zealand have been very impressive so far – that’s coming from someone who predicted that if there are to be any major upsets in this tournament, the Kiwis would be on the receiving end.

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    Considering that Scotland and New Zealand drew 18-all just 12 months ago, it’s impressive that this Kiwis side (arguably weaker than last year’s) were able to do what they did to the Scots on Saturday. Obviously the Bravehearts are weaker than they were a year ago, due to the fact that all their NRL players are injured, but it’s still an incredible turnaround.

    The Kiwis were outstanding against Samoa two weeks ago. The Samoan forwards attempted to create a storm, and to an extent they succeeded, but New Zealand weathered that storm and put a score on.

    The Tongans too have impressed, however they have not yet put in an 80-minute performance, letting both Scotland and Samoa back into the game.

    However, expect Tonga to step it up a notch this weekend, as they have enough big-game experience to show up against the Kiwis.

    New Zealand’s strengths
    New Zealand’s biggest strength is the front row. Intimidation is the name of the game, with starting middle men Martin Taupau and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, and bench enforcers Nelson Asofa-Solomona and Russell Packer.

    Packer, in particular, offers one of the game’s quickest play-the-balls, rarely failing to land on his front when tackled.

    Skipper and lock Adam Blair also plays like a third front-rower, and offers a lot of mongrel with his take-no-prisoners attitude.

    That said, there are danger men throughout this team. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck will be a handful from the back, and the likes of Jordan Rapana with his agility, and Brad Takairangi with his power, will be hard to stop.

    Tonga’s strengths
    Like New Zealand, Tonga’s biggest strength is in the middle of the park. That is what makes this match such an exciting prospect.

    The entire Tongan forward pack, including the bench, is absolutely oozing with class, with every player in the starting pack having played for either Australia or New Zealand at some point.

    There is plenty of talent and big-game experience in the backs too. Michael Jennings, Will Hopoate and Daniel Tupou are all Origin players and NRL premiership winners.

    New Zealand’s weaknesses
    I would have retained Jason Nightingale from the Scotland game at the expense of Dallin Watene-Zelezniak. There could not be two more different wingers.

    Nightingale is the epitome of professionalism. Errors in his game are few and far between and while his speed has diminished, every other aspect of his game is as good as it’s ever been. He never drops bombs, scores plenty of tries, and rarely makes errors in defence. The ultimate professional.

    Watene-Zelezniak, in stark contrast, has plenty of errors in his game, as was evident against Samoa and during the NRL finals. Nightingale and Peta Hiku would have been better options.

    With that in mind, Tonga need to send plenty of traffic toward DWZ and bomb the hell out of his wing – especially from 30 metres out.

    The other issue is Waerea-Hargreaves. He has been a great player for the Roosters for many years, but has never stepped up for the Kiwis – not against quality opposition anyway. Having said that, there is no one in the Kiwi squad I would replace him with, although he’s fortunate Jesse Bromwich and Jason Taumalolo are unavailable. If they were, I sincerely doubt he would be in the team at all.

    Jared Waerea-Hargreaves

    NAPARAZZI / Flickr

    Tonga’s weaknesses
    Konrad Hurrell is one of the most destructive centres in the game, but he’s error-prone in defence and attack.

    After being dropped last week following a poor showing against Scotland, Hurrell finds his way back in the team due to an injury to Solomone Kata.

    Fortunately for Tonga, his effort against the Scots didn’t really cost his team, but making the same errors against the Kiwis could. New Zealand would do well to target Hurrel’s side of the field relentlessly.

    I’m also sceptical about halves Ata Hingano and Tui Lolohea’s ability to be composed and make the right decisions during the clutch moments. They’ve been mighty impressive so far, but New Zealand won’t give them the opportunities that Samoa and Scotland did.

    The verdict
    A Tongan win will come from a good old-fashioned forward ambush. Big charges up the middle, quick play-the-balls, good decisions and pristine execution from the halves will exert plenty of pressure on the Kiwis.

    For New Zealand to win, they just need to match it up front. If the Kiwis can get Tonga into an arm wrestle, they should win off the back of the class they possess in the halves.

    I can see this match being close for 60 minutes before New Zealand run away with it. That said, if the Kiwis take their foot off the gas at any point, Tonga will make them pay.

    New Zealand by 14.

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    The Crowd Says (16)

    • November 9th 2017 @ 5:46am
      samsonite said | November 9th 2017 @ 5:46am | ! Report

      Nightingale is unsung hero. Amazingly consistent player and when in combination with x-factor backs is a winning formula. The key is that the x-factor players have to turn up. This is the game to do it for the kiwis, one of three more levels we will have to raise our game before this comp ends.

      Also looking forward to the continued development of Kody Nikorima his chance to stamp a mark on the game.

      Agree Tonga is lacking in experience in the halves and probably will be the difference.

    • November 9th 2017 @ 10:30am
      Albo said | November 9th 2017 @ 10:30am | ! Report

      Should be a great game ! But I think the Kiwis should have the edge with both their spine and their bench.
      Really looking forward to some great player match ups:
      Jennings & Tupou v Takairangi & Rapana
      Fifita & Taukeiaho v Taupau & JWH
      Taumololo v Asofa-Solomona

      I can understand Kidwell opting for DWZ over Nightingale. Whilst DWZ has some handling errors in his game he is one of the best metre eaters with his hard and fast hit ups, and he can take some pressure of their forwards who will likely be under the hammer from the Tongan forward onslaught. Whilst there can’t have been much between Nikorima & Te Mare Martin for the 6 shirt (both would have plenty of traffic run at them) , I think I would have opted for Martin who I think has a great awareness of opportunities out on the park.

      • November 9th 2017 @ 10:57am
        Jimmmy said | November 9th 2017 @ 10:57am | ! Report

        Young Martin is coming along nicely for the Cows and I am with you Albo. I think he has more to offer than Nikorima. I was hoping he would get a full preseason in with the Cows because he does need to bulk up a little. But he has great awareness and doesn’t mind just playing what he sees.

        • November 9th 2017 @ 11:22am
          Dr Chop said | November 9th 2017 @ 11:22am | ! Report

          I would have gone for Nikorima on the bench over Danny Levi so that he and Martin could be in the team. Although Nikorima mostly plays in the halves these days he’s played plenty of hooker off the bench. He’s very quick off the mark and offers pretty close to what Levi offers in terms of impact and dummy half running. But what he has over Levi for me is both experience and the skills of a half with the ability to play hooker, whereas Levi is just a hooker.

    • Roar Rookie

      November 9th 2017 @ 10:54am
      Joe said | November 9th 2017 @ 10:54am | ! Report

      Looking forward to this game as well as the Fiji vs Italy game. This game in particular with all the off-field sub plots and two teams who are very very good should be a good one. The forwards battle alone should be worth the price of admission. I actually rate the Tongan outside backs. Jennings and Hurrell are two very different centres and offer different things. Hurrell at his best is pretty much unstoppable close to the line. Tupou on the wing has been good too. As with others it might come down to the halves although apart from Shaun Johnson I think the experience stakes are pretty even. I like the Kiwi bench though especially Asofa-Solomona who can break a game wide open and Packer who is a very good go forward prop.

      • November 10th 2017 @ 6:09am
        Womblat said | November 10th 2017 @ 6:09am | ! Report

        Yep, calls of “betrayal” and “disloyalty” were being tossed around like confetti with all those defections and I bet the Kiwis are still bitter about it. That’s the sub-plot of all time right there and should make for a fiery, full-on game.

        I’ll be watching with relish.

    • Roar Guru

      November 9th 2017 @ 11:13am
      Nat said | November 9th 2017 @ 11:13am | ! Report

      60 minutes is about right in regard to competitiveness, although not the first 60. Tonga seem to lose a lot when JT13 and Fifita take a spell so I expect NZ to have a decent, 2 try lead by 50 minute point. We know Fifita can get loose if things are not going his way but Tonga won’t go away with JT13 in his 2nd stanza. NZ by 10+

    • November 9th 2017 @ 1:30pm
      KenW said | November 9th 2017 @ 1:30pm | ! Report

      ‘A Tongan win will come from a good old-fashioned forward ambush.’

      I agree that this is the way it would happen. The problem is that an ambush requires some sort of underestimation or surprise, and there’s none here. NZ know exactly what they are up against, they won’t be complacent or thinking they just need to turn up to win. And if NZ are not complacent I can’t see Tonga staying with them for a full 80 minute game.

      • November 9th 2017 @ 5:11pm
        Dr Chop said | November 9th 2017 @ 5:11pm | ! Report

        I don’t think you can say that New Zealand for sure won’t be complacent. Although they’ve been impressive this world cup so far (admittedly against questionable opposition at times) I’m of the belief that they’ve generally gone backwards under Kidwell’s coaching. This is the same side that drew with Scotland. They haven’t once looked like challenging Australia during Kidwell’s reign (they’ve played 4 times and only once was it close in round 2 of the 2016 4 nations) and they looked shaky against England in the 4 Nations when they last played, only winning 17-16. I’d say complacency is very much a part of this Kiwi side’s DNA.

        • November 9th 2017 @ 7:09pm
          Jacko said | November 9th 2017 @ 7:09pm | ! Report

          Wouldnt all those things you mention ensure there is NO complacency? I also believe the Taumalolo fiasco will have a large space dedicated to it on the NZ change rooms and the old…”Make sure he regrets his decision”…will wipe any complacency out of either team

        • November 9th 2017 @ 9:20pm
          Kenw said | November 9th 2017 @ 9:20pm | ! Report

          I can’t really agree that those results against Australia and England are a mark of complacency. That is simply the level of the squad.

          The game against Scotland is another story of course, there was undoubtedly complacency there, Kidwell was the coach and has to wear a fair chunk of responsibility for day.

          My point though was that I can’t see them approaching this game against Tonga as they did that day against Scotland. I expect to see the NZ team that consistently loses to Australia but usually beats England. That team will outmatch Tonga over 80 minutes – I expect some good periods from Tonga but eventually a comfortable scoreline for the Kiwis.

          I’m still looking forward to this match though. Should be a cracker regardless.

    • November 10th 2017 @ 9:22am
      Fred said | November 10th 2017 @ 9:22am | ! Report

      I really don’t know how to pick this.

      NZ will indeed be driven.

      But so will Tonga.

      I wrote them off before the tournament, but NZ has impressed me. With Tonga, their inexperienced halves will be better with a few games under their built, I think Tui is starting to step up.

      • November 10th 2017 @ 11:28am
        Fred said | November 10th 2017 @ 11:28am | ! Report

        *belt

      • November 10th 2017 @ 1:52pm
        Andrew said | November 10th 2017 @ 1:52pm | ! Report

        Fred its NZ playing NZ A, Australia A and 3 Tongans

        • November 10th 2017 @ 8:43pm
          Dr Chop said | November 10th 2017 @ 8:43pm | ! Report

          Do u feel good mate?

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