As we take a break away from Super League it’s not just England and New Zealand who are in representative action this weekend, with plenty of other games getting underway.
The groundbreaking test in Denver is coincided with another Pacific Test double-header at inner-Sydney’s Campbelltown stadium, with the fierce Samoan and Tongan rivalry igniting once again. The curtain raiser before that is another intriguing prospect, with the Kumuls of Papua New Guinea taking on World Cup semi finalists Fiji.
There is no fixture for the Australian Kangaroos but State of Origin game two takes place at Sydney’s ANZ Stadium this Sunday. A New South Wales win over Queensland will see them take the series for the first time since 2014.
The eligibility rules have been bent to the extreme, and some of them resemble a joke shop, but for the sale of the positivity that surrounds the test in Denver, we’ll keep our outrage to a minimum.
That’s for the powers at the RLIF to sort out – but for now let’s just enjoy these four matches, screened across the BBC and watchNRL.com from Saturday morning.
“Rep Weekend, aka weekend off for Rovers players”
Fiji vs PNG – Saturday June 23 – Campbelltown – watchnrl.com 7am
Fiji’s first game since their heroic World Cup campaign sees them come up against Papua New Guinea in the Pacific Test. All eyes will be on Jarryd Hayne to see how he leads the Bati around, with NRL stars Suliasi Vunivalu and Kane Evans both included.
Nine of PNG’s squad play in the Queensland Cup with the Hunters, who have finished in the play-offs every year since joining in 2014. They face tough opposition here though, and it’s away from Port Moresby and the locals who would probably enjoy eating the opposition for dinner. Hopefully they’ll give it a good crack, ahead of two tests on home soil against England Knights later in the year. Can’t wait for those.
Prediction: Fiji by 10 points.
Fiji Squad: 1. Kevin Naiqama (c), 2. Suliasi Vunivalu, 3. Akuila Uate, 4. Tyrone Phillips, 5. Marcelo Montoya, 6. Jarryd Hayne, 7. Henry Raiwalui, 8. Kane Evans, 9. Joe Lovodua, 10. Tui Kamikamica, 11. King Vuniyayawa, 12. Salesi Junior Fainga’a, 13. Jayson Bukuya, 14. Eloni Vunakece, 15. Pio Seci, 16. Sitiveni Moceidreke, 17. Pio Sokobalavu, 18. Mikaele Ravalawa, 19. Junior Roqica.
Notable Omissions: Viliame Kikau (injured), Ashton Sims (someone’s finally realised he’s not very good)
Papua New Guinea Squad: 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 (c), 10. Luke Page, 11. Rhyse Martin, 12. Nixon Putt, 13. Rod Griffin, 14. Kurt Baptiste, 15. Rhadley Brawa, 16. Enock Maki, 17. Ase Boas, 18. Nene Macdonald.
Notable Omissions: Errrrr.
Samoa vs Tonga – Saturday June 23 – Campbelltown – watchnrl.com 10am
Big balls but not necessary an abundance of brains, it’s a warzone whenever these two nations meet, and this should be no different. Pre-match the Sipi Tau and Sivi Tau get the crowd as animated as ever, with such passion transpiring to the pitch. There’s nothing to dislike about these clashes.
Tonga have a star studded squad including all of their relevant World Cup stars from last year. The main controversy is with Jorge Taufua, who has swapped Tonga for Samoa in another change of allegiance. Farcical but to be expected. In Jason Taumalolo and Andrew Fifita they have two of the worlds best forwards, but they lack a bit of direction in the halves – something which cost them a place in the final last year. Don’t whisper that loudly though.
If Samoa are to win, they will need a huge game from Anthony Milford, who’s allowed to play for the islanders again after omission from Queensland. Here we go again. They will want to avenge a torrid World Cup tournament last year, and need their pivots, which are considerably better than Tonga’s, to step up.
Prediction: Tonga by 8 points.
Samoa Squad: Bunty Afoa (NZ Warriors), Josh Aloiai (Wests Tigers), Michael Chee Kam (Wests Tigers), Christian Crichton (Penrith Panthers), James Gavet (NZ Warriors), Pita Godinet (Wests Tigers), Sam Kasiano (Melbourne Storm), Tim Lafai (St George Illawarra Dragons), Mason Lino (NZ Warriors), Dunamis Lui (Canberra Raiders), Tyrone May (Penrith Panthers), Anthony Milford (Brisbane Broncos), Isaiah Papali’i (NZ Warriors), Joseph Paulo (Cronulla Sharks), Ligi Sao (NZ Warriors), Jorge Taufua (Manly Sea Eagles).
Notable omissions: Carlos Tuimavave. You mad, bro?
Tonga Squad: Andrew Fifita (Cronulla Sharks), Addin Fonua-Blake (Manly Sea Eagles), Siliva Havilli (Canberra Raiders), Ata Hingano (NZ Warriors), Will Hopoate (Canterbury Bulldogs), Koniseti Hurrell (Gold Coast Titans), Michael Jennings (Parramatta Eels), Robert Jennings (South Sydney Rabbitohs), Sione Katoa (Penrith Panthers), Manu Ma’u (Parramatta Eels), Joe Ofahengaue (Brisbane Broncos), Junior Tatola (South Sydney Rabbitohs), Jason Taumalolo (North Queensland Cowboys), Sio Siau Taukieaho (Sydney Roosters), Peni Terepo (Parramatta Eels), Daniel Tupou (Sydney Roosters).
Notable omissions: Ben Tikka-Masala (eating kebabs), Mahe Fonua (injured), Sika Manu (injured)
England vs New Zealand – Saturday June 23 – Denver – BBC 9pm
A groundbreaking event for rugby league, this is a huge opportunity for the sport to put a foothold on the USA. Approaching 20,000 ticket sales, that exceeds some of the attendances in the recent World Cup, and watching a sport that isn’t embedded in pads, stoppages and Jacksonville Jaguars, it should be well-received. Well actually the second part isn’t exactly accurate in Super League right now, thanks to the soddin’ video referee and two hour games.
England should go into the clash full of confidence. They’ve got a strong squad and against a Kiwi side without Shaun Johnson and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, they should fancy their chances. It’s got some new blood amongst it though, and shouldn’t be taken lightly – especially with the novelty of a new coach fresh in their minds. Jake the Snake to bag the winner, of course.
Prediction: England by 2 points.
England Squad: John Bateman (Wigan), Sam Burgess (South Sydney Rabbitohs), Thomas Burgess (South Sydney Rabbitohs), Jake Connor (Hull FC), James Graham (St George Illawarra Dragons), Ryan Hall (Leeds), Chris Hill (Warrington), Jonny Lomax (St Helens), Tommy Makinson (St Helens), Jermaine McGillvary (Huddersfield), Sean O’Loughlin (Wigan), Mark Percival (St Helens), Stefan Ratchford (Warrington), James Roby (St Helens), Scott Taylor (Hull FC), Elliott Whitehead (Canberra Raiders), Gareth Widdop (St George Illawarra Dragons).
Notable Omissions: George Williams (injured), George Burgess (injured), Kevin Brown (did the honourable thing and retired)
New Zealand Squad: Leeson Ah Mau (St George Illawarra Dragons), Nelson Asofa-Solomona (Melbourne Storm), Herman Ese’ese (Newcastle Knights), Raymond Faitala-Mariner (Canterbury Bulldogs), James Fisher-Harris (Penrith Panthers), Slade Griffin (Newcastle Knights), Peta Hiku (NZ Warriors), Jamayne Isaako (Brisbane Broncos), Jordan Kahu (Brisbane Broncos), Isaac Lui (Sydney Roosters), Isaac Luke (NZ Warriors), Te Marie Martin (North Queensland Cowboys), Esan Marsters (Wests Tigers), Ken Maumalo (NZ Warriors), Kodi Nikorima (Brisbane Broncos), Joesph Tapine (Canberra Raiders), Martin Taupau (Manly Sea Eagles), Jared Wearea-Hargreaves (Sydney Roosters), Dalin Watene-Zelezniak (Penrith Panthers).
Notbale Omissions: Shaun Johnson (grounded), Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (missus having a baby)
New South Wales vs Queensland – Sunday June 24th – Sydney – 11am
The Blues were superb in beating the Maroons down in Melbourne and know they can cement a first series win since 2014 in front of their own fans – the same scenario they were in last season until Johnathan Thurston bowed out of Origin with his final masterclass.
This year Brad Fittler has given NSW a new lease of life, and they’ve surely got enough class to see this one out. You can never write Queensland off though, and from a home point of view seeing the series go to a decider up in Brisbane will be equivalent to Garry Schofield’s mood when he asks for a girls phone number. Glum and disappointed. All New South Wales aren’t we.
Prediction: The Blues by 4 points.
New South Wales Squad: 1. James Tedesco (Sydney Roosters), 2. Tom Trbojevic (Manly Sea Eagles), 3. James Roberts (Brisbane Broncos), 4. Latrell Mitchell (Sydney Roosters), 5. Josh Addo-Carr (Melbourne Storm), 6. James Maloney (Penrith Panthers), 7. Nathan Cleary (Penrith Panthers), 8. David Klemmer (Canterbury Bulldogs), 9. Damien Cook (South Sydney Rabbitohs), 10. Matt Prior (Cronulla Sharks), 11. Boyd Cordner (Sydney Roosters), 12. Tyson Frizell (St George Illawarra Dragons), 13. Jack de Belin (St George Illawarra Dragons), 14. Tyrone Peachey (Penrith Panthers), 15. Angus Crichton (South Sydney Rabbitohs), 16. Jake Trbojevic (Manly Sea Eagles), 17. Paul Vaughan (St George Illawarra Dragons).
Notable Omissions: Reagan Campbell-Gillard (injured)
Queensland Squad: 1. Billy Slater (Melbourne Storm), 2. Valentine Holmes (Cronulla Sharks), 3. Greg Inglis (South Sydney Rabbitohs), 4. Will Chambers (Melbourne Storm), 5. Dane Gagai (South Sydney Rabbitohs), 6. Cameron Munster (Melbourne Storm), 7. Ben Hunt (St George Illawarra Dragons), 8. Dylan Napa (Sydney Roosters), 9. Andrew McCullough (Brisbane Broncos), 10. Jarrod Wallace (Gold Coast Titans), 11. Felise Kaufusi (Melbourne Storm), 12. Gavin Cooper (North Queensland Cowboys), 13. Josh McGuire (Brisbane Broncos), 14. Kalyn Ponga (Newcastle Knights), 15. Josh Papalii (Canberra Raiders), 16. Coen Hess (North Queensland Cowboys), 17. Jai Arrow (Gold Coast Titans).
Notable Omissions: Michael Morgan (injured), Cameron Smith (retired from reffing rep games)