The Pacific's top rugby league teams prepare for battle
The Pacific region's top rugby league teams, including a number of NRL stars, will battle it out on Parramatta's Pirtek Stadium this weekend.
The Pacific's top rugby league teams, including a number of NRL stars, will battle it out on Parramatta's Pirtek Stadium this weekend.
The Fiji Bati will meet the Papua New Guinea Kumuls before the Toa Samoa and Mate Ma'a Tonga square off in the NRL Pacific Doubleheader.
Koro Vaka'uta reports.
The build-up to the weekend was initially overshadowed by an eligibility issue after former Bati winger Semi Radradra was selected for the Australian side to meet New Zealand, meaning he was unavailable for Fiji. Fiji coach Mick Potter says the likes of Sisa Waqa, Akuila Uate and Kevin Naiqama will be able to cover for his loss. Potter says the squad doesn't bear any bad feelings towards Radradra.
MICK POTTER: It's a really good thing that a Fijian (playing) rugby league is considered the best winger in Australia. To be picked for Australia, it's not good luck for Semi, it's just probably a lot of hard work from him and he should accept his rewards and take it with open arms. I think everyone feels the same and no one begrudges him here. That's the feel I get.
Potter is wary of a PNG team who are trying to exact revenge on the Bati, the Fijians winning their encounter last year 22-10. He says he is particularly aware of players like Canberra's Kurt Baptiste who will bring his NRL experience into the clash. PNG coach Michael Marum also expects the raiders hooker to make an impact off the bench.
MICHAEL MARUM: He does a good job for the Canberra Raiders there. He's a quality player, we just want him to know the boys a bit more. At the moment they are getting along really well. He'd be one of those players we'd be looking (forward) to come off the bench with impact and lead the boys around the park when he gets on.
Marum has also brought David Mead and Nene Macdonald back into the international fold from NRL duty. But he says it's the PNG-based players that might give the Kumuls an edge, with 11 of the squad coming from Marum's own Hunters team.
MICHAEL MARUM: We keep the same combinations, especially with a short turnaround. Our focus is really just more mainly bonding with the players together, getting them to know each other well before they get out there and play. They should form that combination and should know each others play before Saturday.
The Tongans are hoping the assistance of the man referred to as the 8th Immortal will aid their chances against Samoa. Former Kangaroos' star Andrew Johns has taken on a voluntary role as an assistant coach for the Mate Ma'a Tonga. Head coach Kristian Woolf said Johns gave the squad a real buzz.
KRISTIAN WOOLF: He certainly had some good tips, particularly for the halves, but for the group in general. That's what we brought him in for. We want to obviously help the group prepare as best as possible for this game and if we can give our players a couple of things that they can take back to their club footy that helps them out as well then that's even better.
Woolf says having someone with the standing of Johns could hopefully help retain talent and attract players for future Tongan squads.
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