Love it or hate it, the NRL’s representative round has arrived, and that means it’s time for international rugby league. Here to guide you through the four big matches before the really big match this weekend is The Roar’s NRL expert tipping panel.
Before we get to a trio of big international matches on Saturday, not to mention the women’s matches which will accompany it, we first will witness another cracking women’s State of Origin, set to be played at North Sydney Oval once again.
If last year’s match was anything to go by, it’ll be another open, free-flowing sort of game, with the two sides putting on an entertaining show.
There were almost 7,000 in attendance last year, and there is every chance that tally could be beaten this time around as the women’s game continues to grow in popularity.
Saturday brings us a triple-header of international matches, and one of my personal favourite days on the rugby league calendar. The passion and intensity on display in the players and fans is unrivalled in anything we see for the rest of the year.
And that is set to be heightened even more this year as Tonga get a chance to play in Auckland in front of a likely sea of red against New Zealand.
Attention will then swing back to Sydney at Leichhardt Oval, where (hopefully) Lebanon can resolve their dispute with the board and get on the field against Fiji, before Samoa and Papua New Guinea face off in a game which is sure to have one of the best atmospheres of the season.
Don’t forget to join in with your tips at the bottom of the article to try and beat the experts in 2019 as The Crowd and try your luck in our Roar NRL tipping comp. Crowd tips will close at approximately 6pm (AEST) on Friday evening.
Tips: Queensland women, New Zealand, Lebanon, Samoa
I’ll put my hand up and be honest here – I’ve barely got a clue about any of these international games and the women’s State of Origin. I’m not going to pretend that I do either, because The Roar’s loyal and learned readers will sniff it easily and tear me to pieces. So here’s my tips, best described as ‘uneducated guesses’. Do with them what you must.
New South Wales have the squad to beat the Maroons handily at North Sydney Oval, but I’m on the Queenslanders. They pushed the game to the limit last year and I think they can take the upset of the weekend.
(AAP Image/Craig Golding)
New Zealand will beat everyone’s second team Mate Ma’a Tonga even though my favourite non-Raider Siosiua Taukeheio is fronting up for the Tongans. I like the kiwi backline more than I like the Tongan one.
Samoa have a pretty good lineup including new ‘recruit’ Marty Tapau at lock. They’ll beat a spirited Papua New Guinean side who always give their all.
I like the Cedars to beat Fiji. The story about the protest and possible punishments is just incredible and reminds us that rugby league around the world faces all kinds of barriers to progress. Lebanon’s squad is stronger for mine and they’ll be burning to prove themselves in the face of adversity.
Tips: New South Wales women, Tonga, Lebanon, Samoa
The Women’s State of Origin fixture has established itself as an important part of the rep calendar. I’m looking forward to it. The rugby league is fast and furious with slightly less structured play than the men’s equivalent making it a great spectacle.
For Queensland, the attack is likely to come from Jillaroos Ali Brigginshaw in the halves and the dynamic Chelsea Baker at the back. The Maroons have plenty of experience up front with Steph Hancock and Heather Ballinger. I am going for NSW in a close one on the back of classy centre Isabelle Kelly and hard-working backrower Kezie Apps.
As a card-carrying rugby league internationalist, this is one of the best weekends in the season. My only wish is that we have more matches around the world.
Tonga and New Zealand look evenly matched. While Tonga have an impressive looking forward pack despite losing Fifita, the Kiwis appear to have the edge in the halves. Tonga in a cliffhanger on the back of raw emotion and the crowd at Mt Smart.
Samoa look to be an experienced line-up with plenty of NRL experience. PNG will being bucketloads of enthusiasm and their trademark physical approach. Samoa to win.
Despite players making themselves unavailable for Lebanon, an approach that has raised Robbie’s hackles, the Cedars look to have the edge around the ruck with Farah, Lichaa and Reece Robinson controlling proceedings. Fiji have a couple of flyers out wide in Vunivalu and Ravalawa which should make for an entertaining match. Leichhardt will be rocking. Cedars
Tips: New South Wales women, New Zealand, Fiji, Samoa
While Queenslanders have been whooping it up for the most of the last decade and a half, Blues fans can feel smug in the knowledge that Queensland have never* won a women’s State of Origin series. How does that feel Canetoads? I’m tipping the blue dominance to continue in 2019.
What a game the New Zealand vs Mate Ma’a Tonga promises to be. Even with Andrew Fifita suspended, the Tongan pack would have to be one of the most brutal ever assembled with Taumalolo, Taukeiaho, Pangai, Ma’u and Fonua-Blake lining up.
The Kiwis are no slouches in the engine room themselves but it’s through their experienced halves combination of Johnson and Marshall that I expect the Kiwis to win.
Samoa has a definite edge in NRL experience over the Kumuls. Every member of the Samoan squad is an NRL regular, while by my count only three of the PNG side have any significant NRL experience… And two of them are hookers. Samoa should be too strong. It will be great to see Rhyse Martin play a full game though – hopefully Dean Pay is watching.
Fiji has some great attacking players throughout their backline but have the disturbing prospect of Marcelo Montoya lining up in the No.1 jersey. Young Bulldog Brandon Wakeham will play halfback for Fiji. I haven’t seen much of him but there are wraps on him at Belmore.
(Photo by Kelly Defina/Getty Images)
While we’re on Bulldog watch James Roumanos and Elie El-Zakhem line up for Lebanon who have been rocked by several high profile NRL stars withdrawing due to a pay dispute. Fiji to win.
*The women’s State of Origin series may or may not have started in 2018.
Tips: New South Wales women, New Zealand, Fiji, Papua New Guinea
A cracking weekend ahead. As I mentioned in the opening spiel, it might not be the weekend that is everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s deadset one of my favourites on the rugby league calendar, and being at Campbelltown last year for Tonga and Samoa was a sporting event I’m unlikely to forget anytime soon.
Anyway, onto this weekend’s games, and the women’s Origin looks a really good contest on paper.
Queensland probably have it in the creativity stakes, with Chelsea Baker and Ali Brigginshaw setting the NRLW on fire late last year. The Blues have some really good ability out wide in Jess Sergis and Isabelle Kelly though, while Vanessa Foliaki and Simaima Taufa-Kautai should be able to keep the forward battle in the balance against Heather Ballinger and Steph Hancock.
The difference maker of mine is Kezie Apps, and I expect the Blues to fall over the line.
The game in Auckland is one no rugby league fan should want to miss. Sure the suspension of Andrew Fifita takes something out of it, but the Tongan pack is still absolutely brutal.
I tend to think they will go with the Kiwis, but as most are probably thinking, they are going to get outdone by the Kiwi spine late in the game, who will be operating against some tired bodies.
I’ll take Fiji to get the job done against Lebanon, who have had plenty going on off the field this weekend. I doubt it’ll be a blowout and if the Cedars do get on the field, they have plenty to play for, but the Fijians have so much class out wide.
While most are tipping Samoa to beat the Papua New Guineans, I just can’t see it. They have a good pack and Martin Taupau adds plenty, but like Tonga, they will struggle a little in the creativity stakes, and the men from PNG have the cohesion of playing together in the Queensland Cup.
Be sure to get your tips in on the form below by 6pm (AEST) on Friday, and we will have the results in the table and comments section below.
|NSW vs QLD
|NZL v TGA
|FIJ v LEB
|SAM v PNG
Tips for Origin Game 2 (to be played on Sunday evening in Perth) will be revealed by the panel on Saturday morning.