The knockout stage of the Rugby League World Cup begins with a quarter final clash between Australia and Samoa in humid conditions at Darwin Stadium. The Australians are looking to get some consistency in their starting side, while Samoa are coming off a draw and need a perfect performance to upset the favourites.
Australia’s form has been less than convincing – due to the changes in each match through the group stages – but with the finals starting the testing of combinations is finished. The host side will welcome back their regulars, needing to produce the consistency that Australia is known for and cement their combinations.
Samoa have drawn one match, lost the other two and are extremely fortunate to finish third in their pool – on a better for-and-against than Scotland – to sneak into the quarter finals. The Samoans’ form has been not up to their standards, looking vulnerable in defence and scrappy in attack, considering the amount of NRL talent in the side; they need to fix their problems if they are to be any chance.
The last time these two sides met was back in the 2014 Four Nations in Wollongong with Australia winning 44-18 win and securing a place in the final. There are 11 players from that match in this quarter final. This previous meeting had the Kangaroos throw the ball around, using their forwards to offload late and spread out to their edges to score, catching the Samoan defence sliding and unable to cover for each other. Many penalties were conceded in this match, with the Samoans holding players down or pushing up early and getting caught offside, allowing the Australians to pile on the points and stay inside the opposition’s half for the majority of the game.
Australia boasts an array of statistical wins in this World Cup over a lackluster Samoa. The Kangaroos have an average of 100 runs – 1.3km more average run metres than Samoa. Australia has double the amount of tries and try assists over their quarter final opponents. The only arguments against these stats are the caliber of teams played was much greater for Samoa, facing the Kiwis and Tonga in the group stages.
This match holds a key battle between a former Australian Kangaroo Josh Papalii – who lines up for Samoa – and opposing backrower Matt Gillett. These Queensland and old Australian teammates’ clash could well be a fantastic spectacle in both attacking force and tremendous tackling technique.
The key factors of this matchup between Papalii and Gillett are the amount of work each player puts in. Josh Papalii has not been at his best, however his contribution to get Samoa up the field has been crucial; Papalii has averaged 32 runs for 326 metres, while backing up that offensive prowess with 71 tackles in three matches. Gillett has lower numbers in those areas but has only missed five tackles so far while providing a try and try assist. Matt Gillett hasn’t received as many touches of the ball but he will be out to shut down Josh Papalii with his top notch defensive reads and limit the Samoan juggernaut from providing the usual impact he creates.
This quarter final will be highly intensive; with the expected temperature in Darwin to reach mid-30 degrees, Samoa could have an advantage in the opening stages after playing their last match in humid conditions at Cairns. The Kangaroos have put together a strong line-up to catapult them through the finals, and their full-strength side will be too clinical late in the match, loading points onto Samoa off the back of their errors and discipline.
Australia by 30
Australia squad: 1. Billy Slater, 2. Dane Gagai, 3. Will Chambers, 4. Josh Dugan, 5. Valentine Holmes, 6. Michael Morgan, 7. Cooper Cronk, 8. Aaron Woods, 9. Cameron Smith (c), 10. David Klemmer, 11. Boyd Cordner, 12. Matt Gillett, 13. Josh McGuire.
Interchange: 14. Wade Graham, 15. Jordan McLean, 16. Reagan Cambell-Gillard, 17. Tyson Frizell. Reserves: 18. Felise Kaufusi, 19. Cameron Munster, 20. James Maloney, 21. Ben Hunt.
Samoa squad: 1. Young Tonumaipea, 2. Matthew Wright, 3. Ricky Leutele, 4. Joseph Leilua, 5. Timoteo Lafai, 6. Jarome Luai, 7. Ben Roberts, 8. Junior Paulo, 9. Jazz Tevaga, 10. Herman Ese’ese, 11. Joshua Papalii, 12. Frank Pritchard, 13. Leeson Ah Mau.
Interchange: 14. Fa’amanu Brown 15. Bunty Afoa 16. Suaia Matagi 17. Joseph Paulo Reserves: 18. Zane Musgrove 19. Frank Winterstein 20. Pita Godinet 21. Ken Maumalo
Venue: Darwin Stadium, Darwin, 8pm (AEDT)