By Brian Lowe, Date: 26/10/17
While all 14 nations competing at Rugby League World Cup 2017 believe they can kick-start their campaigns with a win, the Fiji Bati are confident they have picked a team that will get the job done.
And who can blame them? The #8 Fijians are loaded with NRL talent including Jarryd Hayne, who will turn out for the Bati after a nine-year absence. He last played for Fiji at the 2008 RLWC.
The Hayne Plane will line up at five-eighth against the #10 USA Hawks, who have themselves named a strong side that includes former NRL’er Junior Vaivai in the centers and Toronto Wolfpack utility Ryan Burroughs out wide.
The Fijians have also picked NRL players Kevin Naiqama (captain), Suliasi Vunivalu, Akuila Uate, Korbin Sims and his brother Ashton, who most recently has been plying his trade in the English Super League.
“As we train more the combinations are working better,” said Fiji head coach Mick Potter.
“The team seems happy with the way we are heading leading into this game. There is still some work to do. I am happy with the preparation given the limited time.”
The Americans have named as strong a side as they can, a team that will be skippered by Mark Offerdahl, who will be making his second straight World Cup appearance.
Most recently, Offerdahl has been playing for the London Broncos in the English championship after stints in the Intrust Super Cup competition in Australia and the French Premiership.
The Hawks have also selected Bureta Faraimo and Eddy Pettybourne, players who have been in and out of the NRL since RLWC 2013.
By game time, it will have been a month at the very least since any of the US players have played a game, so will match fitness be an issue?
“In today’s age, match fitness isn’t something you worry about,” USA head coach Brian McDermott told RugbyLeaguePlanet exclusively. “It’s more about timing and working game day systems.”
Despite the fact that Fiji is ranked a couple of places higher than the USA by the Rugby League International Federation, and has the benefit of NRL players on its roster, the final result may not be a given.
The Bati’s head coach Mick Potter isn’t taking anything for granted.
“The USA team is flying nicely under the radar as Brian McDermott would like,” said Potter. “There are not a lot of things we know about them.
“I do know with Macca coaching them they will be formidable and give 100% of their ability in all games. He will also probably have a trick or two in there somewhere.”
From the Hawks’ standpoint, coach McDermott says they know full well what they’ll be up against.
“No doubt Fiji will be strong as they’re stacked with talented NRL players, so we expect them to be strong, but we also expect to put on a good show,” he said.
The USA national team made everyone sit up and take notice at RLWC 2013 when it made the quarterfinals, but according to McDermott, this time it’s about more than just getting results.
“We’re here to win games, but we also have to recognize that this is about building a legacy and two years ago we made the call to build a program that would pay dividends down the road,” he said.
“This is also a transitional year and ultimately what we’re trying to do is create a professional environment and build a foundation, so we can look to the future.”