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3 hours ago | Tim Costello
Rising Tongans look to continue Australia's fall
Previously unbeaten throughout Mal Meninga's tenure as Australian coach, the Kangaroos will be looking to bounce back from last weekend's loss to New Zealand with a strong showing against Tonga, the aspiring powerhouse of international rugby league. Fooled into a false sense of security with an easy four-pointer during the opening minutes last Saturday, the Australians have opted against making changes in response to the 26-24 defeat, however with five-eighth Luke Keary failing to go the distance due to heavy contact, Gold Coast-bound utility Tyrone Peachey is in line to debut in place of the Clive Churchill Medalist. Opposing Tonga for the first time in history, the reality check provided against the Kiwis should bring about a much-improved performance from the Kangaroos as they endeavour to maintain their status as the premier rugby league nation.
Coming within an inch of qualifying for the World Cup Final twelve months ago, Tonga will face their greatest test yet against an Australian outfit with a point to prove. Maintaining the bulk of the squad that featured in the 38-22 victory over Samoa during the mid-season representative weekend, the Polynesian nation have made minor changes to the playing ranks with Tevita Pangai Jr. and Sika Manu bolstering the forwards, while having enjoyed strong campaigns with the Warriors at NRL level, David Fusitua and Solomone Kata have been preferred ahead of Robert Jennings and Konrad Hurrell in the backline. Boasting significant first grade experience across the board, the Tongans will need to be at their best from the opening minutes against an opponent as formidable as Australia or else the disappointment of coming up short as they did against England in last year's semi final looms as a likely outcome for the sell-out crowd to reconcile.
Last meeting: None. These nations are yet to meet on the international test stage.
Who to watch: Afforded the responsibility of directing play again the Kiwis last week, Daly Cherry-Evans will be hoping for a much-improved performance, albeit with greater stability in the halves, against the aspiring Tongan giant slayers. Criticised for squandering the side's halftime lead last Saturday, the Manly halfback proved far from the sole reason why the Kangaroos' 13 match winning run came to an unexpected halt, but in assuming such a prestigious role previously held by a number of legends of the game, the 29-year-old will be acutely aware that a winless record in the end-of-season internationals could spell the end of his representative revival. Unlikely to suffer the misfortune of losing his halves partner less than a quarter of the way through proceedings this week, Cherry-Evans will be hoping his class as a premiership winning playmaker provides the Australians with the edge needed to overcome the colossal size of their opponents.
Failing to feature in first grade with Wests Tigers following the mid-season representative bye back in June, Tuimoala Lolohea will be looking to leave a lasting impression down under before linking up with Leeds next season. Lining up alongside former Junior Warriors teammate Ata Hingano in the halves, the responsibility of capitalising upon the platform laid by the side's forwards will be felt profoundly by the 23-year-old if the Tongans are to pull off an unprecedented scalp in the international arena. Blessed with blistering pace and mesmerising footwork, Super League fans can expect to be dazzled by Lolohea's feats in 2019, but before he ventures to the Northern Hemisphere, look for the Tongan five-eighth to play a pivotal role in determining which side finishes ahead on the scoreboard.
The favourite: Despite last week's result casting doubts around the Kangaroos' status as the premier nation, the reigning World Cup champions are expected to account for the rising giants of international rugby league.
My tip: Thriving against weaker outfits unable to handle their forward assault, the Tongans will need to demonstrate significant improvement from the disappointment of last year's World Cup exit against England. Boasting a roster with outside backs to rival the size of opposition forwards, Kristian Woolf's side should trouble the Kangaroos with pure physicality, but with a major mismatch in the quality of playmakers between the two nations, the Australians should have the finesse to finish ahead on the scoreboard. Australia by 8.
1. James Tedesco 2. Dane Gagai 3. Latrell Mitchell 4. Tom Trbojevic 5. Valentine Holmes 6. Luke Keary 7. Daly Cherry-Evans 8. David Klemmer 9. Damien Cook 10. Jordan McLean 11. Boyd Cordner 12. Felise Kaufusi 13. Josh Mcguire 14. Ben Hunt 15. Jake Trbojevic 16. Tyson Frizell 17. Aaron Woods
1. William Hopoate 2. Daniel Tupou 3. Michael Jennings 4. Solomone Kata 5. David Fusitua 6. Tuimoala Lolohea 7. Ata Hingano 8. Andrew Fifita 9. Siliva Havili 10. Sio Siua Taukeiaho 11. Tevita Pangai Junior 12. Sika Manu 13. Jason Taumalolo 14. Sione Katoa 15. Addin Fonua-blake 16. Joe Ofahengaue 21. Ben Murdoch-Masila
Referees: Gerard Sutton; Sideline Officials: Dave Munro, Nick Beashel; Video Referees: Steve Chiddy, Ben Galea;