The Pacific Championships head into the last games before the finals. Following Samoa's two losses in the men's Pacific Cup, the final will be played between Australia and New Zealand. These two have a chance to size each other up in Melbourne this weekend ahead of the decider.
In the Pacific Plate competition, Fiji Bati take on the PNG Kumuls, while the women's competition sees Australia take on the Kiwi Ferns again.
It makes for an intriguing weekend of international rugby league.
Australia Jillaroos vs. Kiwi Ferns
Saturday 28th October 6pm (AEDT)
AAMI Park, Melbourne
Australia Jillaroos: 1. Tamika Upton 2. Jaime Chapman 3. Jessica Sergis 4. Isabelle Kelly 5. Jakiya Whitfeld 6. Tarryn Aiken 7. Ali Brigginshaw 8. Shannon Mato 9. Lauren Brown 10. Jessika Elliston 11. Kezie Apps 12. Olivia Kernick 13. Simaima Taufa Bench: 14. Emma Tonegato 15. Yasmin Clydsdale 16. Kennedy Cherrington 17. Emma Manzelmann Reserves: 18. Shaylee Bent 19. Shenae Ciesiolka 20. Teagan Berry 21. Keeley Davis
Kiwi Ferns: 1. Apii Nicholls 2. Leianne Tufuga 3. Mele Hufanga 4. Abigail Roache 5. Shanice Parker 6. Tyla Nathan-Wong 7. Raecene Mcgregor 8. Mya Hill-Moana 9. Brooke Anderson 10. Angelina Teakaraanga Katoa 11. Annessa Biddle 12. Otesa Pule 13. Georgia Hale Bench: 14. Ash Quinlan 15. Najvada George 16. Jasmine Fogavini 17. Tiana Davison Reserves: 18. Laishon Albert-Jones 19. Cheyelle Robins-Reti 20. Capri Paekau
Verdict: Not quite sure why Australia aren't playing Mate Ma'a this week, as logic would dictate in a three-team competition. Still, I'm sure someone at Rugby League HQ knows what is going on. These two teams met just two weeks ago when the Australians had a real battle to overcome the Kiwis 16-10.
Since then the Kiwis have had a solid hit-out against Mate Ma'a, winning 28-10. Playing a third game on the trott is a rarity at international level and it will only strengthen and improve the Kiwis. Australia will also be better for their one run together, so this promises to be a fiercely contested clash in Melbourne.
Australia's slight class advantage should see them home.
Tip: Jillaroos by 12
Australia vs. New Zealand
Saturday 28th October 8:10pm (AEDT)
AAMI Park, Melbourne
Australia: 1. James Tedesco 2. Dylan Edwards 3. Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow 4. Kotoni Staggs 5. Valentine Holmes 6. Cameron Munster 7. Daly Cherry-Evans 8. Jake Trbojevic 9. Ben Hunt 10. Thomas Flegler 11. Cameron Murray 12. Reuben Cotter 13. Isaah Yeo Bench: 14. Harry Grant 15. Lindsay Collins 16. Patrick Carrigan 17. Nicho Hynes Reserves: 18. Liam Martin 19. Selwyn Cobbo 20. Tino Fa'asuamaleaui 21. Payne Haas
New Zealand: 1. Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad 2. Ronaldo Mulitalo 3. Matthew Timoko 4. Joseph Manu 5. Jamayne Isaako 6. Dylan Brown 7. Jahrome Hughes 8. James Fisher-Harris 9. Kieran Foran 10. Moses Leota 11. Isaiah Papali'i 12. Briton Nikora 13. Joseph Tapine Bench: 14. Fa'amanu Brown 15. Nelson Asofa-Solomona 16. Griffin Neame 17. Leo Thompson Reserves: 18. Naufahu Whyte 19. Danny Levi 20. Wiremu Greig 21. Keano Kini
Verdict: If Australia were impressive in their first-up 38-12 victory over Toa Samoa, then New Zealand, in their 50-0 demolition of the same team, were frighteningly good. This is the last hit-out before the final and with both teams already through, the only thing riding on the result is national pride.
Barring late changes, Australia appear to be resting their big gun forwards with Tino Fa'asuamaleaui, Payne Haas and Liam Martin missing out. The Kiwis on the other hand have named a full-strength squad, with Kieran Foran named to start at dummy-half rather than come off the bench, as he did last week against Samoa.
The Kiwis like nothing more than to beat the Australians on their own turf, and with a now clear advantage in the forwards, they should go close to coming out on top. Jahrome Hughes and Dylan Brown are forming a formidable halves pairing and there is plenty of firepower in the outside backs to take advantage of any dominance in the middle of the field.
It is always hard to tip against the Kangaroos, but I feel they might be too focused on giving everyone a run ahead of the final, and the Kiwis are set pounce in Melbourne.
Tip: New Zealand by 8
PNG Kumuls vs. Fiji Bati
Sunday 29th October 4pm (AEDT)
Santos National Football Stadium, Port Moresby
PNG Kumuls: 1. Alex Johnston 2. Robert Derby 3. Zac Laybutt 4. Benji Kott 5. Nene Macdonald 6. Kyle Laybutt 7. Lachlan Lam 8. Epel Kapinias 9. Edwin Ipape 10. Valentine Richard 11. Rhyse Martin 12. Dan Russell 13. Jack de Belin Bench: 14. Judah Rimbu 15. Wellington Albert 16. Keven Appo 17. Jacob Alick Reserves: 18. Liam Horne 19. Nixon Putt 20. Junior Rop 21. Mckenzie Yei
Fiji Bati: 1. Jahream Bula 2. Maika Sivo 3. Sunia Turuva 4. Waqa Blake 5. Mikaele Ravalawa 6. Kurt Donoghoe 7. Brandon Wakeham 8. Tui Kamikamica 9. Penioni Tagituimua 10. King Vuniyayawa 11. Kitione Kautoga 12. Apisalome Saukuru 13. Taane Milne Bench: 14. Noah Nailagoliva 15. Caleb Navale 16. Gordon Whippy 17. Watasoni Waqanisaravi Reserves: 18. Jason Qareqare 19. Mesake Ravonu 20. Sirilo Lovokuro 21. Pio Seci
Verdict: Fiji were lucky to get away with a win last week against the enthusiastic Cook Islands team, which led for most of the match. A week earlier the Kumuls had a lot less trouble putting the same team away. The Cook Islands had shown plenty of improvement, with one hit-out under their belts, and Fiji will have to hope for a similar rise in performance if they are any hope against the Kumuls here.
It promises to be an entertaining clash between two teams who are set to meet each other in the final. PNG look to have the advantage in class across the field and should win comfortably.
Tip: PNG by 18
All odds correct at time of publication. Check tab.com.au for the latest.