New Zealand v Papua New Guinea
Headingley Carnegie Stadium, Leeds
Friday 8pm (UK time)
Saturday 7am (AEDT), 6am (AEST)
In terms of tournament progression this game may be viewed by many as a dead rubber but you can bet none of the players from either side will be looking at it that way.
For the league-mad Kumuls this final group game will be their last appearance at this tournament, and as such a final chance to extract some positives from what has been a disappointing fortnight. However they could still progress with an unlikely upset win, provided France go down to Samoa (on Monday night UK time, Tuesday morning Australian time).
For the Kiwis, it’s a chance to continue to build momentum following that crushing win over France, to put the other top sides on notice, and for the players scrapping for a spot in the best 17 to prove to coach Stephen Kearney that they deserve to stay in that top side.
Even if the Kiwis do suffer an upset loss, Samoa would still need to put an absolute cricket score against France to dislodge the Kiwis at the top of Group B, meaning New Zealand’s place atop the group is all but assured.
Kearney has made six changes for this one, with Josh Hoffman coming back in for his second game, replacing Kevin Locke at fullback. Sonny Bill Williams also plays his second game, replacing Frank Pritchard in the second row, giving Pritchard the chance to rest a corked leg and sore ankle.
Elijah Taylor moves into the starting side at lock, with skipper Simon Mannering earning a rest (meaning a second run as captain for Kieran Foran), and Sam Moa joins the 17 on the pine.
Jesse Bromwich joins the side at prop while Jared Waerea-Hargreaves also earns a rest.
In the backline, Dean Whare returns at centre and Manu Vatuvei on the wing, replacing Krisnan Inu and Jason Nightingale respectively.
The Kumuls will have a tough challenge in front of them improving on their 38-4 defeat at the hands of Samoa – especially given the dominant nature of the Kiwis’ 48-0 win over France, the heaviest defeat of the tournament to date.
Watch Out New Zealand: Pride, passion and desperation will be the Kumuls’ biggest assets here but don’t discount NRL regulars Ray Thompson and David Mead, as well as local product Jessie-Joe Nandye. Nandye has been arguably the best of the Kumuls, with a Paul Gallen-esque 163 metres from 21 runs and 35 tackles in the opener against France – and that coming off the bench! He backed that up with 104 metres and 37 tackles, as well as his side’s only try, when promoted to the starting side in the loss against Samoa. Those sorts of numbers will have him firmly stamped as a player to watch for New Zealand.
Watch Out Papua New Guinea: A modicum of relief perhaps, with the Kiwis’ leading metre-eater, ferocious prop Waerea-Hargreaves rested, but that just means other players will look to step up. It’s still a giant pack and Ben Matulino (a massive 207 metres against France), Sam Kasiano (124 metres off the bench against France) and Jesse Bromwich (103 metres off the bench against Samoa, and now promoted to start) will all be looking to make a statement.
The Kumuls will well and truly have their work cut out trying to bring down this monster pack and if they can’t contain them, the likes of Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Josh Hoffman in the backs could run riot.
Key Match-Up: David Mead v Josh Hoffman. Mead is one of the few NRL regulars in the Kumuls side and, that one missed goal notwithstanding, he has really stood up with 124 metres in the first game and a massive 229 in the second. Hoffman has had to endure criticism of his suitability for the fullback role and answered in style with two try assists and one try in his only game so far, against Samoa.
Televised: 7mate – Live, Saturday from 6.30am (NSW); 5.30am (Qld).
The Way We See It: The Kiwis were in a different class to the French in their second match of the tournament, while the Kumuls were simply outclassed against a strong Samoan team. With the gulf in class and experience here looking even greater than either of those two matches we fear it could be a long night for the gallant Kumuls. Kiwis by plenty.
* Statistics: NRL Stats.