Tonga captain Sika Manu believes his side can go a long way to achieving a historic win over the Kiwis if they can limit the impact of New Zealand's big ball carriers in today's Rugby League World Cup clash in Hamilton.

The 30-year-old veteran previously played 14 tests for the Kiwis and was a member of the 2008 World Cup winning squad before switching allegiances to Tonga in 2013.

Having taken on the captaincy in 2015, he is relishing the opportunity to lead Tonga against his former side and the prospect of becoming the first second-tier outfit to upset one of the three top-tier teams.

The highly anticipated Waikato Stadium match is on track to be a sell-out and the result will determine which side claims top spot in Pool B, ahead of next week's quarter-finals.


"I'm looking forward to it," said Manu.

"It's been a long time since I've played for the Kiwis (2011) but I'm happy where I'm at right now playing for Tonga and I'm looking forward to the challenge."

The former Melbourne and Penrith forward, now plying his trade in the UK Super League with Hull KR, admits he'll be feeling some mixed emotions as kick-off approaches.

Kiwis captain Adam Blair speaks to media ahead of their crunch World Cup game against Tonga.

He'll be playing against his former Kiwis teammates Simon Mannering, Thomas Leuluai and captain Adam Blair, while another former Kiwi teammate Manu Vatuvei has been a late addition to the Tongan interchange bench.

The visitors have suffered a blow however, losing strike centre Michael Jennings to a hamstring injury, with Mahe Fonua coming into the starting side.

"It will probably be (during) the anthem," he said. "I was born and raised here on New Zealand in Wellington.

"There will be some mixed emotions but I'm a proud Tongan and happy to represent Tonga."

With a formidable forward pack containing more recent Kiwis defectors Jason Taumalolo, Sio Siua Taukeiaho and Manu Ma'u, Manu says Tonga will base their plans around dominating the Kiwis big men.

"We've just got to play to our strengths and not worry too much about what the Kiwis are going to bring out, focus on what we do best, and hopefully that can win us the game.

"Just playing through the middle and then giving it to some of our boys in the outside backs after that.

"We've got a few good finishers so hopefully if we can do a good job on the middle then our outside backs can score the points."

If they can nullify the impact of the Kiwis big ball-runners and restrict the offloads Tonga hope they can cancel out the running threats of Kiwis halves Shaun Johnson and Kodi Nikorima.

"They have a lot of off-roaders with Martin Taupau and Nelson Asofa-Solomona but we've defended really well in the past three games and if we can shut those offloads down then we'll be alright."

With a capacity crowd of just over 25,000 expected, Manu hopes their huge contingent of Tongan supporters can inspire them when the going gets tough, as they did in last week's 32-18 win over Samoa.

"It will be massive for us," he said of their vocal fans.

"When you hear the Tongan fans sing like that it's a huge boost for the team and you can feel the boys lift on the field."

Last RLWC meeting: Group B, 1995 - Kiwis 25-24 Tonga
Last meeting: 2009 - Kiwis 40-24 Tonga

New Zealand v Tonga at Waikato Stadium, 5pm
Kiwis: 1. Roger Tuivasa-sheck 2. Dallin Watene Zelezniak 3. Dean Whare 4. Brad Takairangi 5.Jordan Rapana 6. Kodi Nikorima 7. Shaun Johnson 8. Martin Taupau 9. Thomas Leuluai 10.Jared Waerea-Hargreaves 11. Simon Mannering 12. Joseph Tapine 13. Adam Blair (c).
Interchange: 14. Nelson Asofa-Solomona 15. Russell Packer 16. Isaac Liu 17. Danny Levi.
Tonga: 1. William Hopoate 2. Daniel Tupou 18. Mahe Fonua 4. Konrad Hurrell 5. David Fusitua 6.Tuimoala Lolohea 7. Mafoa'aeata Hingano 8. Andrew Fifita 9. Sione Katoa 10. Sio Siua Taukeiaho 11. Manu Ma'u 12. Sika Manu (c) 13. Jason Taumalolo.
Interchange: 14. Siliva Havili 16. Peni Terepo 17. Ben Murdoch-Masila 19. Manu Vatuvei.