Expect plenty of fireworks in the opening match of the 2014 Four Nations tournament between England and Samoa this Saturday at Suncorp Stadium.
While England will go into the game as favourites, there’s somewhat of an unknown about the match as the two sides are yet to meet at a Test match level.
Both sides made the quarterfinals of last year’s Rugby League World Cup, with Samoa eliminated by Fiji and England progressing to the next round before being defeated by New Zealand.
England’s team for this game will feature five NRL stars – Sam Tomkins, James Graham, Gareth Widdop, Tom Burgess and George Burgess. However, the absence of Clive Churchill Medal winner Sam Burgess may prove costly as he prepares for code-swap to Rugby Union.
Samoa will have experienced NRL players Frank Pritchard, David Fa’alogo and Josh McGuire in their forward pack and quality finishers Antonio Winterstein and Daniel Vidot on the flanks for their first appearance in the Four Nations series.
Wests Tigers’ Tim Simona will line-up for Samoa at fullback in what will be his Test match debut. The 22-year-old was named in the train-on squads for both New Zealand and Samoa ahead of last year’s Rugby League World Cup, however had to withdraw from the tournament due to shoulder surgery.
Simona, primarily a centre or winger, has spent limited time in the custodian role, however will have an opportunity to show off the attacking prowess he is so well-known for from a different position than usual. The challenge, not only for Simona but the entire back three, will be coming up against the quality kicking game of Tomkins and Widdop.
England will be without regular captain Sean O’Loughlin due to injury, with Bulldogs prop Graham set to lead the side out.
Australian fans will be able to catch a glimpse of Canberra Raiders 2015 recruit Josh Hodgson, who will start at hooker for England and form a new-look playmaking trio with halfback Matty Smith and Widdop.
This is a danger game for England if they are to establish themselves as a real contender in this tournament, with Samoa out to cause an upset against their more fancied opponents.