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Australia vs Tonga - Strong forward pack gives Mate Ma'a a chance in Auckland
Fifita and Taumalolo tipped to keep this match closer than expected
Tonga's David Fusitua scored 23 tries in the NRL last season (Getty Images).
Australia vs Tonga Preview, Predictions & Betting Tips
It will be a historic occasion at Auckland's Mount Smart Stadium on Saturday when Australia take on Tonga for the first time. The Pacific Islanders are on the up and can spring a surprise behind a formidable forward pack and the leading tryscorer in the NRL.
The Kangaroos won the 2017 World Cup to claim their 11th title, but their last match didn't go as planned. Australia were favourites against New Zealand at Mt Smart Stadium but went down in a thrilling 26-24 defeat.
Valentine Holmes crossed early try and Australia were leading 12-8 at half-time, but the Kiwis came out firing after the break and established a 26-12 lead. Felise Kaufusi and James Tedesco crossed late but it wasn't enough.
Coach Mal Meninga has named an unchanged line-up, with Luke Keary named at five-eighth after being concussed after just 16 minutes last week. Australia are starting a new era with Billy Slater, Cooper Cronk, Cameron Smith and Jonathan Thurston all gone.
Mate Ma'a were revived in 2017 when former Kangaroos prop Andrew Fifita joined forces with Jason Taumalolo and a number of other Kiwis to join Tonga. They performed well at the 2017 World Cup, beating Scotland 50-4, Samoa 32-18 and New Zealand 28-22 in the group stage.
Kristian Woolfs side then beat Lebanon 24-22 before falling in the semi-finals in a narrow 20-18 defeat against England. Tonga defeated Samoa 38-22 in the Pacific Test in June to earn their first shot against 11 time World Cup champions Australia.
Woolf, in charge since 2014, has a star studded back-line that includes Sydney Roosters' Daniel Tupou, Parramatta's Michael Jennings and the Warriors' Solomone Kata and David Fusitu'a. Leading NRL tryscorer Fusitu'a scored 23 tries last season including eight in his last five games. The Warriors winger has scored five tries in five games for Tonga.
David Fusitu'a crossed for 23 tries last season including eight in his last five games. Kata and Fusitu'a replace Konrad Hurrell and Robert Jennings with Sika Manu and Tevita Pangai starting in the second row.
This is the first Test match between Australia and Tonga.
This could be a battle of the forward packs and it would be no surprise if Tonga come out on top. Tackle bust machines Andrew Fifita and Jason Taumalolo will be hard to stop with their busts and offloads.
In the halves, if Ate Hingano and Tuimoala Lolohea can get a roll on behind a strong forward push, expect them to be a match for Luke Keary and Daly Cherry-Evans.
Out wide both these sides are packed with extremely good players, Valentine Holmes and David Fusitu'a the two best in the NRL last season.
- Australia made 11 errors against New Zealand in the 26-24 loss.
- Tonga have won 7 of their last 8 games.
- Tonga's David Fusitu'a scored 23 tries last season including 8 in his last 5 games.
- David Fusitu'a has scored 5 tries in 5 games for Tonga.
Australia are constantly short priced favourites in Rugby League and their first match against Tonga is no different. I'm going to go for an upset here.
Tonga have two of the best forwards in the game and David Fusitu'a is a try scoring machine. We love Valentine Holmes and he got us the cash last week, but there is great value for Fusitu'a to score.
Best Bet: Tonga +10.5 Handicap @ 1.95 4 Units
Value Bet: David Fusitu'a Anytime Tryscorer @ 2.25 4 Units
Value Bet: Tonga Win @ 4.00 1 Unit
First Tryscorer: David Fusitu'a @ 13.00 1 Unit
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