Rugby League Pacific Championships Week 1

International rugby league, for both the men and women, makes a welcome return with the newly minted Pacific Championships kicking off this weekend in Townsville and Papua New Guinea. The men's series will be broken into a Pacific Cup to be contested by Australia, Samoa and New Zealand and a Pacific Bowl to be contested between Papua New Guinea, Cook Islands and Fiji.

The action begins on Saturday evening when the Jillaroos face up to arch-rivals the Kiwi Ferns, at a no doubt steamy Queensland Country Bank Stadium. They will be followed by the Australia men's team who face the ever-improving Toa Samoa, bristling with NRL stars and looking for revenge after their World Cup final loss last year.

On Sunday we travel to rugby league stronghold Port Moresby where Fetu Samoa and Fiji Bulikula will clash in the women's game, before the hometown Kumuls heroes take on the Cook Islands.

It makes for an exciting weekend of international rugby league.

Australia Jillaroos vs. Kiwi Ferns
Saturday 14th October 6pm (AEDT)
Queensland Country Bank Stadium, Townsville

Australia: 1. Tamika Upton 2. Jaime Chapman 3. Jessica Sergis 4. Isabelle Kelly 5. Julia Robinson 6. Tarryn Aiken 7. Ali Brigginshaw 8. Shannon Mato 9. Keeley Davis 10. Jessika Elliston 11. Kezie Apps 12. Olivia Kernick 13. Simaima Taufa Bench: 14. Emma Tonegato 15. Caitlan Johnston 16. Kennedy Cherrington 17. Shaylee Bent Reserves: 18. Lauren Brown 19. Emma Manzelmann 20. Keilee Joseph

New Zealand: 1. Apii Nicholls 2. Annessa Biddle 3. Shanice Parker 4. Mele Hufanga 5. Leianne Tufuga 6. Ash Quinlan 7. Raecene McGregor 8. Mya Hill-Moana 9. Brooke Anderson 10. Angelina Teakaraanga Katoa 11. Otesa Pule 12. Laishon Albert-Jones 13. Georgia Hale Bench: 14. Tyla Nathan-Wong 15. Najvada George 16. Jasmine Fogavini 17. Amelia Pasikala Reserves: 18. Abigail Roache 19. Cheyelle Robins-Reti 20. Tiana Davison 21. Capri Paekau

Verdict: The two best women's teams in the world kick off the Pacific Championship in Townsville, with Australia hoping to repeat its last start dominance over the Kiwis. That 54-4 victory came in the World Cup final at Old Trafford, where New Zealand were simply blown off the park.

The Australia team has a familiar look about it with star centre-pairing Jessica Sergis and Isabelle Kelly looking to exploit the work of halves Ali Brigginshaw and Tarryn Aiken. At fullback, Dally M Medal winner Tamika Upton is ready to continue her sparkling form on the international stage. The backs will be relying on the forwards gaining the upper hand in the middle of the park, with veteran Kezie Apps leading the way.

The Kiwis with Raecene McGregor at halfback, will be looking to regain some pride after the embarrassing loss last year. They did push the Australians all the way in the pool stage in England and they'll be keen to return to that tightened defence and minimal errors approach.

Tip: Australia by 22

Australia Kangaroos vs. Toa Samoa
Saturday 14th October 8:10pm (AEDT)
Queensland Country Bank Stadium, Townsville

Australia: 1. James Tedesco 2. Dylan Edwards 3. Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow 4. Kotoni Staggs 5. Selwyn Cobbo 6. Cameron Munster 7. Daly Cherry-Evans 8. Payne Haas 9. Ben Hunt 10. Tino Fa'asuamaleaui 11. Cameron Murray 12. Liam Martin 13. Isaah Yeo Bench: 14. Harry Grant 15. Lindsay Collins 16. Patrick Carrigan 17. Reuben Cotter Reserves: 18. Nicho Hynes 19. Jake Trbojevic 20. Thomas Flegler 21. Valentine Holmes

Toa Samoa: 1. Sualauvi Faalogo 2. Murray Taulagi 3. Izack Tago 4. Young Tonumaipea 5. Brian To'o 6. Stephen Crichton 7. Daejarn Asi 8. Stefano Utoikamanu 9. Gordon Chan Kum Tong 10. Junior Paulo 11. Luciano Leilua 12. Connelly Lemuelu 13. Keenan Palasia Bench: 14. Spencer Leniu 15. Terrell May 16. Heilum Luki 17. Ronald Volkman Reserves: 18. Royce Hunt 19. Justin Matamua 20. Greg Marzhew 21. Tommy Talau

Verdict: Australia enter this first challenge with an unfamiliar backline, with Dylan Edwards making his debut on the wing and a centre pairing of Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow and Kotoni Staggs. Coach Mal Meninga will be relying heavily on the Queensland ruck combination of Ben Hunt, Daly Cherry-Evans and Cameron Munster, with Harry Grant off the bench, to provide cohesion. Skipper James Tedesco will be out to prove he still has some quality time remaining in the national fullback jersey, and will cause headaches for the Samoan defence whenever he pops up.

The Australian forward pack sees a handy combination of brutal strike power and crafty mobility, with plenty of back-up talent crowding the bench. The front row rotation of Payne Haas, Tino Fa'asuamaleaui and Lindsay Collins is ominous, with Patrick Carrigan and Reuben Cotter waiting to add their unique talents to the fray.

We saw during the World Cup what the reinvigorated Samoan team can accomplish with a good share of NRL talent throughout their line-up. They defeated England in the semifinal, before falling 30-10 to Australia in the final.

Fresh from his NRL grand final heroics, Stephen Crichton tries his hand at five-eighth, with plenty of backline weapons assembled outside him. With Spencer Leniu only managing a bench spot, the starting forwards will be a formidable match-up for the Australians.

Australia should start the series with a win, but it won't be easy early on.

Tip: Australia by 18

TAB odds: Australia $1.02 (-23.5 $1.90) Samoa $13 (+23.5 $1.90)

Fetu Samoa vs. Fiji Bulikula
Sunday 15th October 1:45pm (AEDT)
Santos National Football Stadium, Port Moresby

Fetu Samoa: 1. Destiny Mino-Sinapati 2. Taylor Mapusua 3. Petesa Lio 4. Niall Williams-Guthrie 5. Lindsay Tui 6. Pauline Piliae 7. Sienna Lofipo 8. Fiona Jahnke 9. Destiny Brill 10. Janelle Williams 12. Malaela Sua 13. Annetta Nuuausala 15. Onjeurlina Hunt 16. Pihuka Berryman-Duff 17. Tafao Asaua 19. Tamerah Leati 20. Avery-rose Carmont 21. Makayla Eli

Fiji Bulikula: 1. Cassie Staples 2. Ana Raduva 3. Patricia Raikadroka 4. Vitalina Naikore 5. Asena Rokomarama 6. Sienna Laing 7. Sereana Naitokatoka 8. Josephine Maejiirs 9. Teaghan Laing 10. Anastacia Shum-Cottrell 11. Ema Rainima 12. Talei Holmes 13. Aliti Namoce 14. Siniva Sa'anga 15. Grace Waqa 16. Mere Kilawekana 17. Merewalesi Rokouono 18. Asenaca Diranuve 19. Adi Sokula Waqa 20. Alesi Kilawekana 21. Salote Sukakinamena

Verdict: With rugby league looking to grow its presence across the Pacific, these two women's teams will play a vital role in establishing goals for young women deciding on their footballing future. There are NRLW players throughout both sides, with Cronulla's Cassie Staples a standout out at fullback for Fiji.

Broncos dummy-half Destiny Brill will drive the Samoan effort around the ruck as they look to dominate with their imposing forwards. There will be plenty of heavy hits up front and fleet-footed backline movement in what should be an entertaining battle.

Tip: Samoa by 10

PNG Kumuls vs. Cook Islands Aitu
Sunday 15th October 4pm (AEDT)
Santos National Football Stadium, Port Moresby

PNG Kumuls: 1. Alex Johnston 2. Robert Derby 3. Zac Laybutt 4. Rodrick Tai 5. Nene Macdonald 6. Kyle Laybutt 7. Lachlan Lam 8. Epel Kapinias 9. Judah Rimbu 10. Valentine Richard 11. Jacob Alick 12. Dan Russell 13. Jack de Belin Bench: 14. Liam Horne 15. Nixon Putt 16. Junior Rop 17. Benji Kott Reserves: 18. Cruise Ten 19. Rhyse Martin 20. Wellington Albert 21. Justin Olam

Cook Islands Aitu: 1. Esom Ioka 2. Malachi Morgan 3. Kayal Iro 4. Esan Marsters 5. Steven Marsters 6. Brad Takairangi 7. Tevin Arona 8. Davvy Moale 9. Ruatapu Ngatikaura 10. Makahesi Makatoa 11. Zane Tetevano 12. Reuben Porter 13. Pride Petterson-Robati Bench: 14. William Samuel 15. Rhys Dakin 16. Justin Makirere 17. Kadiyae Ioka Reserves: 18. Takai Mokohar 19. Isaiah Cooper-Tetevano 20. Alvin Maungatti 21. Lucky Pokipoki

Verdict: It is well known how loved the Kumuls are in Papua New Guinea and they open the Pacific Plate series at home against the Cook Islands, determined to reward their fans with a victory. Lachlan Lam will lead the way from halfback with a couple of old NRL heads at his disposal in fullback Alex Johnston and lock Jack de Belin.

Former Eel Brad Takairangi returns from England to play five-eighth for the Cook Islands, with the Marsters cousins looking to combine in the outside backs. The Cook Islands are relatively light on NRL talent and despite playing with plenty of pride in their jersey, could struggle against the Kumuls in front of the fired-up crowd.

Tip: Kumuls by 22

TAB odds: PNG $1.08 (-19.5 $1.90) Cook Islands $8 (+19.5 $1.90)

All odds correct at time of publication. Check for the latest.