Im­pres­sive Fiji won’t be easy­beats

Manawatu Standard - - Sport - HAMISH BIDWELL

OPIN­ION: At last count, fewer than 10,000 tick­ets had sold for Satur­day’s ‘‘big’’ match at West­pac Sta­dium.

There’s a fair chance you didn’t know there was any game on there this week­end. Let alone a world cup quar­ter­fi­nal.

And who could blame you. Af­ter all, New Zealand against Fiji is hardly one of in­ter­na­tional rugby league’s more fa­bled ri­val­ries.

If the 2017 Rugby League World Cup has reg­is­tered with any­one, it’s be­cause of Tonga and their fans. They’ve been mag­nif­i­cent and, in the process of do­ing re­mark­able things such as beat­ing the Ki­wis 28-22, ob­scured what Fiji have been up to.

There are some funny teams, pop­u­lated by play­ers with ten­u­ous links, at this tour­na­ment. Some of the foot­ball’s been of a com­i­cal stan­dard too.

Fiji, though, are an im­pres­sive team play­ing im­pres­sive foot­ball and New Zealand fans needn’t as­sume that Satur­day’s clash will be a walkover. In terms of depth and pedi­gree, they’re far stronger than Fiji, but you would’ve said the same be­fore they played Tonga too.

The Ki­wis might not bring an un­beaten record into this quar­ter­fi­nal, but Fiji def­i­nitely do. Not to men­tion some qual­ity play­ers.

So far they’ve beaten the United States 58-12, Wales 72-6 and Italy 38-10. Hardly pow­er­houses of the world game, but em­phatic out­comes all the same.

Mel­bourne Storm wing, by way of St Kentigern Col­lege, Su­liasi Vu­ni­valu has taken his su­perb club form into this tour­na­ment, scor­ing tries and start­ing sets of six off in em­phatic fash­ion.

At first glance, a rugby league game be­tween New Zealand against Fiji might not pro­vide the most com­pelling case to pack West­pac Sta­dium. Look a bit deeper and we might not only get a real con­test on Satur­day, but maybe an up­set too.

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