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5 days ago
Pacific pride on the line as improving PNG and Fiji face off
Last year's World Cup was a massive success. TV ratings and crowd numbers were at an all-time high and there seemed to be a renewed interest in the tournament. Previously, there had been question marks over whether the event had any purpose given the dominance of Australia, New Zealand and England. However, the success of the 2017 World Cup was not due to the results of these three teams. Rather, it was the rise of the Pacific nations that saw the tournament approached with a revitalised spirit by players and fans alike.
Papua New Guinea were one of the major success stories of 2017. The Kumuls charged towards the quarter-finals but were unfortunately eliminated by Grand Finalists England. It was a steep learning curve for Michael Marum's men but they would have still taken a lot of confidence out of the improved effort over the course of the tournament. This week's game with Fiji provides the Kumuls with yet another chance to prove themselves on the international stage. What PNG lack in first-grade experience, they more than make up for in passion and energy - two qualities shared among all Pacific island nations in the World Cup. The Kumuls will be hoping that NRL stars such as James Segeyaro and Kurt Baptise can provide enough leadership to steer the team to victory. Emerging first-graders such as Rhyse Martin and Justin Olam have also been named for PNG.
Papua New Guinea certainly have a tough challenge ahead of them when it comes to shutting down Fiji's electric backline. The Bati's star-studded back five includes captain Kevin Naiqama, Melbourne flyer Suliasi Vunivalu, Akuila Uate, Tyrone Phillips and Marcelo Montoya. Other regular first-graders in the squad are Jarryd Hayne, who will don the No. 7 jersey on Saturday afternoon, Kane Evans, Jason Bukuya and Eloni Vunakece. The Pacific Test will provide the Fijians with the perfect opportunity to showcase their talents as they look to secure a position in next year's Intrust Super Cup Premiership. Fiji were one of the surprise packets of the 2017 Rugby League World Cup, stunning New Zealand in their quarter-final before falling to Australia. The victory over the Kiwis proved that the Pacific nations were capable of challenging the top rugby league teams in the global arena. Fiji can look towards the PNG side as an example of what they can achieve if given the chance to compete in reserve grade competitions. Nine of the Kumuls' 18 players selected for Saturday afternoon's game come from the PNG Hunters squad, which won last year's Queensland Intrust Super Cup.
Last meeting: 2016 Pacific Test - Fiji 22 PNG 24
PNG won the last mid-season Test between the two teams 24-22 in 2016.
Who to watch: If the Kumuls are to be victorious, they will need spark out of dummy-half from Cronulla hooker James Segeyaro. Segeyaro shapes as one of PNG's most dangerous threats in attack and his experience in first grade should allow him to get his big men over and across the advantage line through quick play-the-balls. Three of the last five meetings between these two sides have tallied under 32 points. If points are at a premium again, it will be the evasiveness of Segeyaro that PNG may have to turn to.
Meanwhile, all eyes will be on Parramatta star Jarryd Hayne as he looks to steer Fiji to victory on Saturday. The selection of Hayne at halfback means that much of the responsibility for the team's attack will fall directly on his shoulders. The former Titan has suffered an injury-disrupted started to 2018 and therefore it is questionable whether he is capable of directing the Bati in attack given his limited game time.
The favourite: Fiji are strong favourites to take this year's Test.
My tip: This will certainly be closer than the bookies are expected. Emotion and passion are guaranteed as two highly committed outfits come head-to-head. Regardless, the experience of the Fijian squad should see them home. Fiji by 6.
1. Justin Olam 2. Junior Rau 3. Thompson Teteh 4. Willie Minoga 5. Richard Pandia 6. Lachlan Lam 7. Watson Boas 8. Stanton Albert 9. James Segeyaro 10. Luke Page 11. Rhyse Martin 12. Nixon Putt 13. Rod Griffin 14. Kurt Baptiste 15. Rhadley Brawa 16. Ase Boas 17. Enoch Maki
1. Kevin Naiqama 2. Suliasi Vunivalu 3. Akuila Uate 4. Tyrone Phillips 5. Marcelo Montoya 6. Henry Raiwalui 7. Jarryd Hayne 8. Kane Evans 9. Joe Lovodua 13. Eloni Vunakece 11. King Vuniyayawa 12. Salesi Junior Fainga'a 10. Tui Kamikamica 14. Pio Seci 15. Sitiveni Moceidreke 16. Pio Sokobalavu 17. Junior Roqica
Referees: Matt Cecchin; Sideline Officials: Michael Wise, Kasey Badger; Video Referees: Henry Perenara, Bryan Norrie;