The good news for Toa Samoa is that with Tonga taking all the limelight with their star-studded team, the men in blue are relatively underrated heading into rugby league’s premier showpiece this weekend.
Which is why Matt Parish’s men should be a lot more relaxed when they run out at Mt. Smart Stadium tonight for their opening match of the Rugby League World Cup against the Kiwis.
We know a relaxed team with the right mindset can go far even against the odds. And there is no doubt that the odds are stacked against Toa Samoa up against a relatively strong Kiwi team.
But reputations and history aside, we simply cannot discount the Toa Samoa. They are a very strong unit and if they find their straps early, they have all the potential to spoil the party for the Kiwis at home.
Captain Frank Pritchard is a man on a mission and he wants his World Cup swansong to be one to remember. He is happy for Samoa to avoid all the hype and the expectations.
“We’re happy to go under the radar, as underdogs - there’s been a lot of talk about those two other teams,” Pritchard said earlier this week.
“Everyone’s in the group (and) we’ve got a goal that we want to finish in the top four, so we’re working our way towards that.”
His team, he said, are raring to go.
“They’re all enthusiastic, all want to be here, and the good thing about us is that we’re the easy-go team, off the cuff.
“I’m just grateful and humbled to play for Samoa this year. We’ve just got to do what we do best, play to our strengths - we can’t afford to (try and) be another team that we’re not.”
One the star players Toa Samoa has attracted this year is Canberra forward, Josh Papali’i. He was a bit more animated when he was asked about his thoughts.
“I’m looking forward to going to war with the boys, starting this new Cup in a different jersey, a jersey I’ll probably cherish for a long time,” Papali’i said.
“One of my jobs was probably to come in, probably keep everyone calm, especially the younger boys who haven’t played a World Cup before.
“Everyone’s played N.R.L. and everyone knows that’s a pretty tough competition.”
Like his Captain, Papalii said he was glad to see the Samoans fly under the radar.
“Tonga has had a lot of publicity with Jason in the team, he probably deserves that kind of recognition as well, a player of his caliber,” Papalii said. “We’re just happy to be the dark horses.”
We couldn’t agree more. And as we’ve said before this could in the end work out quite well for Toa Samoa. We all know how expectations that distract and detract players – even the best of them.
And without the hype and fanfare the other teams have enjoyed, the environment has allowed Toa Samoa Coach, Matt Parish to do what needs to be done to get his team ready.
And he believes they are so that all he has demanded now is leadership from his big men and more experienced players.
“The control of possession is a big factor in Samoa playing well,” he said.
“If the team can do that we are looking at similar if not more fortuitous results than that of the 4 Nations tournament from 2014.”
That is a great indication.
Keep in mind that in 2014, Toa Samoa was very unfortunate to lose to New Zealand by four points at the stroke of full time after a brutal encounter.
This time, Parish believes his men are ready.
“I had not had a Samoa team that has trained so well three days consecutively,” he said.
“The bigger forwards working as a unit both in attack and defense, and both edges working very hard at combinations. The team’s main focus will be a high completion rate and control with and without the ball.”
Well that’s absolutely critical, isn’t it?
Now lets hope they can do that and give us a great cause for celebration tonight.
We can hardly wait. O outou mama na Toa Samoa!
In the meantime, have a fantastic weekend Samoa, God bless!