By Matt Encarnacion
6:30am Sat 16th November, 2013
Samoa will start as narrow favourites against Fiji in the best match of the quarter-finals.
Samoa v Fiji
Halliwell Jones Stadium, Warrington
Sunday 3pm (UK time)
Monday 2am (AEDT), 1am (AEST)
The fourth quarter-final between Fiji and Samoa promises to be the most evenly-matched game of the weekend.
Although the Samoans enter as slight favourites, it's amazing that they've even got this far given the adversity that coach Matt Parish has had to endure over the group stages in regards to his roster.
Injuries to Frank Winterstein, Reni Maitua and captain Harrison Hansen has hampered the beginning of Samoa's World Cup campaign, while ill-discipline in their final group match win over France has resulted in a one-game ban to forward Leeson Ah Mau.
They did catch a break when they successfully appealed to overturn Sauaso Sue's one-game suspension, while Mose Masoe was lucky to escape a ban overall.
As a result, veteran forward Tony Puletua answered an SOS call and got some much-needed game time against the French.
Fiji, similarly, have had to overcome plenty of hurdles to qualify for the final eight.
After beating Ireland 32-14 in their opening game, the Bati went tryless against the Aussies, 34-2, before managing just two tries against hosts England, 34-12.
Not only will coach Rick Stone face a mammoth task of trying to lift his side after successive defeats to two heavyweights, but he will have to do it without prop Korbin Sims, who was found guilty of spear-tackling England prop James Graham in their final group game.
A likely semi-final with Australia awaits the winner of this clash.
Watch out Samoa: England and Australia kept Fijian fullback Kevin Naiqama quiet with masterful kicking displays over the past fortnight, but with halfback Ben Roberts shouldering most of Samoa's general play kicking, expect plenty of fifth-tackle pressure from the Fiji defence. Naiqama showed the type of danger he can be in their win over Ireland, breaking seven tackles and setting up a try and a line break.
Watch out Fiji: The message was bright and clear for Samoa against the French: all out aggression. It remains to be seen whether coach Matt Parish will employ a similar game plan against the more physical Fijians, but the Bati will have watched Samoa's last game against France and readied themselves for a similar onslaught. Halves Alipate Noilea and Aaron Groom in particular will be looking over their shoulders quite often.
Key Match-Up: The power of Kevin Naiqama versus the agility of Anthony Milford is the easy choice, but the battle between centres Tim Lafai and Joey Leilua up against Sisa Waqa and Was Naiqama could be match-defining.
The challenge to stop the in-form Leilua should be the first or second priority for the Fijians, given he has 26 tackle breaks in his three World Cup games.
Where It Will Be Won: The halves. Ben Roberts, Iosaia Soliola, Noilea and Groom aren't necessarily household names, but all four men hold the key to their side's chances of moving to the final four of the tournament.
Soliola was a late shuffle to five-eighth against France with Pita Godinet coming on after 20 minutes, so the responsibility falls largely on Roberts.
Noilea and Groom, on the other hand, will need to lift their games after struggling against Australia and England. Both teams have the men out wide, and the men in the middle, so it's just a matter of who can add the finishing touches to their sets.
Televised: 7mate – Live from 1:30am Monday (NSW); 12:30am (Qld)
The Way We See It: Samoa are the official favourites, and they have every right to be. They enjoy more experience in the halves and on the bench. The key, as mentioned earlier, will be in the halves where Ben Roberts is the centre of attention. Can he handle it? We think he can. Samoa by eight.
Would love to stay home from work and watch this one. Could get very interesting. Kind of a shame the winner of this one meets Australia. Would be better if the winner played England. Then we could play Australia and knock them out before the final.