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Rugby League World Cup preview: Tonga to test world's best

Roosters winger Daniel Tupou (AAP Image/Paul Miller)
Roar Guru
23rd October, 2013
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4832 Reads

The Tongans have declared their intentions on going after the ‘big three’ at the 2013 World Cup. Like most nations in this year’s tournament they’re fielding their strongest ever line-up, with coach Charlie Tonga selecting a squad with ample NRL experience.

Mate Ma’a Tonga
RLIF World Ranking: 10
Best Result: One group match win (2000, 2008)
2008 Finish: seventh
2013 RLWC Odds: $101

Tonga first appeared at the RLWC in 1995, just seven years after their first ever official international match.

The Mate Ma’a performed incredibly well in 1995 with their first ever World Cup match being one of the greatest in the tournament’s history.

That game against New Zealand provided the Warrington crowd a spectacle in every sense of the word, with a decisive Matthew Ridge field goal proving the difference as the Kiwis won 25-24.

Having to back up two days later after such an absorbing match, Tonga let slip a 22-6 lead against Papua New Guinea as the players began to run out of steam in the second half. The Kumuls came back to draw the game at 28-all in what was another RLWC classic.

As a result, the Tongans bowed out of the tournament without a win on debut, though the side could hold their head high after being more than competitive.

In 2000, the Tongans struggled in Pool C, losing matches against France and Papua New Guinea to bow out in the group stages again.

After the disappointment of 2000, the Mate Ma’a would re-surface as quality opposition during the Pacific Cup tournaments in 2004 and 2006. They would defeat Fiji 22-14 in the final of the 2006 tournament and subsequently qualify for their third World Cup.

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In the 2008 RLWC, Tonga went in as favourites to progress from the pool stages in a group including Ireland and Samoa.

A first up win against the Wolfhounds set up a situation where they would only need to beat their arch-rivals Samoa to progress to the knockout stage for the first time. That match, played in front of a raucous crowd at Penrith, would again go down as one of the best in the tournament’s history with Samoa ending Tonga’s campaign 20-12.

The current captain Brent Kite led the Tongans out for a rematch against Samoa this year at the very same venue. The Mate Ma’a absolutely blitzed the Samoan side 36-4, never dropping their intensity and avenging their 2008 loss.

That match signalled Tonga’s intentions at the 2013 RLWC, and Charlie Tonga has a team that will be more than competitive.

Team Line-up (likely)
1. Glen Fisiiahi
2. Daniel Tupou
3. Konrad Hurrell
4. Sosaia Feki
5. Jorge Tafua
6. Samsoni Langi
7. Daniel Foster
8. Brent Kite (c)
9. Nafe Seluini
10. Fuifui Moimoi
11. Willie Manu
12. Jason Taumalolo
13. Sika Manu

14. Ukuma Taai
15. Siosa Vave
16. Peni Terepo
17. Patrick Politini

Squad Members: Mahe Fonua, Sydney Havea, Siliva Havili, Siuatonga Likiliki, Nesiasi Mataitonga, Mickey Paea, Ben Murdoch-Masila

Brent Kite will lead a hard running forward pack that includes Sika Manu, Jason Taumalolo and Parramatta Eels favourite, Fuifui Moimoi. This will certainly ensure that intensity levels will be high in matches involving Tonga.

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The backline will provide just as much impact and will also be just as hard to tackle with Hurrell, Tupou, Taufua, Feki, Fisiiahi and Fonua battling for a position as outside backs.

The young halves pairing are relatively untested at the highest level, but they both produced the goods against Samoa earlier in the year and Charlie Tonga will have confidence in the pair.

Four hookers have been included in the squad, however Seluini is likely to be named in the starting side with Politini coming off the bench.

Key Player
I’m an unabashed fan of Sika Manu. The versatile back rower isn’t your typical looking rugby league player, and certainly isn’t the fittest, strongest or fastest.

What Manu does possess, though, is a brilliant rugby league mind. He hits the gaps well, runs some damaging lines, is hard to tackle and has an incredible amount of skill with the ball in hand. He will be a major part of Tonga’s campaign in this World Cup.

One to watch for the UK fans will be the Warriors’ devastating centre – Konrad Hurrell. He has taken his game to a new level this year and is so hard to stop when he has the ball in his hand, usually taking a few defenders with him.

The young centre will certainly provide the crowds plenty of entertainment – and his opposite number plenty of headaches.

Fixtures and Opponents
Vs Scotland @ Derwent Park, Workington. Kick-off – Wed 30th Oct 7am AEDT.
Vs Cook Island @ Leigh Sports Village, Leigh. Kick-off – Wed 6th Nov 7am AEDT.
Vs Italy @ The Shay, Halifax. Kick-off – Mon 11th Nov 3am AEDT.

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Key Match
The final Group C match between Tonga and Italy is shaping up as a potential play-off for top spot.

Italy has shown that they are here to win after their 15-14 upset victory over England in the warm-up matches. Both sides will be up for this game and the winner may end up finding themselves in the quarter-finals.

RLWC 2013 Prospects
Once again punters are predicting Tonga to top their group and progress through to the knockout stages of the tournament. The Tongans have historically underachieved carrying those expectations and perform better when against the odds.

The Mate Ma’a should win their match against the Cook Islands and with only the top seed from Pool C progressing to the next stage, every win is vital. Scotland and Italy will certainly provide a contest.

If Tonga can finish on top of Group C, it will be the first time they have reached the quarter-final stage, setting up a potential mouth-watering clash against New Zealand.

My Conclusion
Well Roarers, that’s the 14th and last of my previews on the competing nations at the 2013 RLWC. I hope you enjoyed each read and good luck to all the participating nations and their supporters.

Like everyone else, I’m tipping the winner to come from the ‘big three’, however I’m certain we are about to witness an incredible World Cup.

The best part of all… there’s only two more sleeps to go. Bring it on!

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