Tonga ready to heap 40-year first on vulnerable Kangaroos
THE Kangaroos are facing the prospect of consecutive defeats and some unwanted history when they take on Tonga at Mt Smart Stadium on Saturday.
The historic clash was confirmed as a sellout on Wednesday, following a final release of tickets this week.
Coming off the back of their shock 24-26 loss to the Kiwis last weekend, Mal Meninga's side is staring down the barrel of consecutive losses in the same calendar year for the first time since 1978.
That year the Kangaroos lost twice to France, which was also the last time Australia has lost to a team other than New Zealand, England or Great Britain, a record spanning 45 Tests.
Saturday will mark the first time Tonga have played against the Kangaroos and they are bidding to become only the fifth team to ever taste success against Australia.
Boosted by the commitment of star forwards Andrew Fifita and Jason Taumalolo, Tonga have a real opportunity to produce the second boilover against the Kangaroos in as many weeks.
The Kangaroos were flattered by the scoreline against the Kiwis and are in a transitional period after the retirements of star quartet Billy Slater, Cameron Smith, Johnathan Thurston and Cooper Cronk.
Australia will be better for the run against New Zealand, but their forwards will need to bounce back after being dominated by the Kiwi pack.
If Tonga can take a leaf out of the Kiwis' book and take it to Australia up front, then the pressure will be on the Kangaroos' new-look spine to deliver.
For the first time in a long time, the Kangaroos are feeling the heat.
Read on for our full Tonga v Kangaroos preview in The Big Picture!
Mate Ma'a Tonga v Australia Kangaroos at Mt Smart Stadium, 5.45pm AEST
Tonga: 1. Will Hopoate, 2. Daniel Tupou, 3. Michael Jennings, 4. Solomone Kata, 5. David Fusitu'a, 6. Tuimoala Lolohea, 7. Ata Hingano, 8. Andrew Fifita, 9. Siliva Havili, 10. Sio Siua Taukaiaho, 11. Tevita Pangai Jr, 12. Sika Manu, 13. Jason Taumalolo
Interchange: 14. Sione Katoa, 15. Addin Fonua-Blake, 16. Joe Ofahengaue, 17. Peni Terepo
Reserves: 18. Konrad Hurrell, 19. Leivaha Pulu, 20. Robert Jennings, 21 Ben Murdoch-Masila
Kangaroos: 1. James Tedesco, 2. Dane Gagai, 3. Latrell Mitchell, 4. Tom Trbojevic, 5. Valentine Holmes, 6. Luke Keary, 7. Daly Cherry-Evans (vc), 8. David Klemmer, 9. Damien Cook, 10. Jordan McLean, 11. Boyd Cordner (c), 12. Felise Kaufusi, 13. Josh McGuire
Interchange: 14. Ben Hunt, 15. Jake Trbojevic, 16. Tyson Frizell, 17. Aaron Woods, 18. Tyrone Peachey, 19. Reagan Campbell-Gillard
The talking point: Outspoken Tonga forward Andrew Fifita comes up against his Sharks teammates Valentine Holmes and Aaron Woods after being critical of his club not acknowledging his representative accomplishments with the Mate Ma'a.
The Fox Sports Lab stat: The last time Australia tasted consecutive defeats was against the Kiwis in the 2014 Four Nations final and the 2015 mid-year Test.
The odds (courtesy of Ladbrokes): Tonga $3.50, Australia $1.32
Our prediction: Australia by 8
Watch: Live on Chanel Nine, Fox League and Sky Sports 2 (NZ)
Andrew Fifita v David Klemmer
No one doubts Fifita's passion for the Tongan jersey, but if he can snag a win over the Kangaroos he will be vindicated for his defection to the second-tier nation prior to the 2017 World Cup.
Klemmer had an outstanding season for a disappointing Bulldogs' outfit and he carried that form into the Test against the Kiwis, where he was the only Australian forward to notch up over 100 metres.
Fifita and Klemmer are two of the most fiery props in the game and the two former State and international teammates won't be taking a backward step.
Much of the success of the two teams' backlines will depend on the platform their forwards set up front and Fifita and Klemmer will be leading the charge from the start.
Latrell Mitchell v Michael Jennings
They may play on opposite sides of the field, but Mitchell and Jennings provide the attacking spark for their teams.
Mitchell struggled defensively at times against the Kiwis, but he was a beast in attack, notching 142 metres, six tackle busts, three linebreaks and two linebreak assists.
Jennings didn't have his best season for the Eels in 2018, but at his best he has the X-factor to trouble the Kangaroos with his dynamic running game.
Damien Cook v Siliva Havili
Kangaroos' hooker Damien Cook perhaps unfairly felt he had let Australia down in their loss to the Kiwis.
Cook by no means played badly against New Zealand, but the mountain of work he did in defence, making a whopping 47 tackles, clearly affected his attacking game.
Cook will demand more from his pack against Tonga.
Havili has only 48 first-grade games to his name, but his ability to get his forward pack rolling will go a long way to deciding who wins the battle in the middle.