The Kiwis are looking to put a nightmare build-up behind them and get their Rugby League World Cup campaign off to a winning start in tonight's clash against Samoa at Mt Smart Stadium.

New Zealand have been written off by many critics following the well-publicised defections of four players to Tonga, and the loss of assistant coach Garth Brennan who was last week appointed new head coach of the Gold Coast Titans NRL club.

Despite numerous disruptions, coach David Kidwell remains under immense pressure to get his side firing, having only achieved one victory in six starts since he replaced former New Zealand test coach Stephen Kearney last September.

Samoa have enjoyed a low-key build-up by comparison, with the Matt Parish-coached side largely going under the radar, with much of the pre-tournament focus centering on their opponents problems and Tonga's highly rated tournament prospects.

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Tonight's match will be just the fourth meeting between the two nations, while several players due to take the field are dual Kiwis-Samoa internationals, highlighting the close association between the two countries.

The Kiwis have four players on debut - Brad Takairangi, Nelson Asofa-Solomona, Isaac Liu and Danny Levi - and Kodi Nikorima and Shaun Johnson will play in the halves together for the first time.

Samoa's line-up mainly consists of players with previous test experience while they will be led by former Kiwis forward Frank Pritchard.

Both sides boast large forward packs and the result may well hinge on which side controls possession better and dominates in the middle of the field.

The Kiwis should have the edge in class but intrigue surrounds how well the men in blue will gel together in their opening hit-out and this contest could be closer than many are anticipating.

Our tip: Kiwis 22-14
Last RLWC meeting: 2013 - Kiwis 42-24 Samoa
Last test meeting: 2014 Four Nations - Kiwis 14-12 Samoa
Odds: Kiwis $1.20, Samoa $4.20

Kiwis: 1. Roger Tuivasa-sheck 2. Dallin Watene Zelezniak 3. Gerard Beale 4. Brad Takairangi 5.Jordan Rapana 6. Kodi Nikorima 7. Shaun Johnson 8. Martin Taupau 9. Thomas Leuluai 18.Jared Waerea-Hargreaves 13. Simon Mannering 12. Joseph Tapine 10. Adam Blair.

Interchange: 14. Nelson Asofa-Solomona 15. Russell Packer 16. Isaac Liu 17. Danny Levi

Reserves: 19. Peta Hiku 21.Addin Fonua-Blake.

Samoa: 1. Young Tonumaipea 2. Peter Mata'utia 3. Timoteo Lafai 4. Joseph Leilua 5. Ken Maumalo 6. Joseph Paulo 7. Ben Roberts 8. Junior Paulo 9. Jazz Tevaga 10. Sam Lisone 11. Joshua Papalii 12. Frank Pritchard 13. Leeson Ah Mau.

Interchange: 14. Pita Godinet 15. Herman Essese 16. Suaia Matagi 17. Bunty Afoa.

Reserves: 18. Zane Musgrove 19. Ricky Leutele.