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Rugby League World Cup Preview: Samoa

Expectations are high for Toa Samoa, who have a point to prove.


Squad

Frank Pritchard (Captain; Parramatta Eels), Bunty Afoa (New Zealand Warriors), Leeson Ah Mau (St George Illawarra Dragons), Fa’amanu Brown (Cronulla Sharks), Herman Ese’ese (Brisbane Broncos)
Pita Godinet (Manly Sea Eagles), Tim Lafai (St George Illawarra Dragons), Joseph Leilua (Canberra Raiders), Ricky Leutele (Cronulla Sharks), Sam Lisone (New Zealand Warriors), Jarome Luai (Penrith Panthers), Suaia Matagi (Parramatta Eels), Peter Mata’utia (Newcastle Knights), Ken Maumalo (New Zealand Warriors), Zane Musgrave (South Sydney Rabbitohs), Josh Papalii (Canberra Raiders), Joseph Paulo (Cronulla Sharks), Junior Paulo (Canberra Raiders), Ben Roberts (Castleford Tigers), Sam Tagataese (Cronulla Sharks), Jazz Tevaga (New Zealand Warriors), Young Tonumaipea (Melbourne Storm), Frank Winterstein (Manly Sea Eagles), Matthew Wright (Manly Sea Eagles).

Coach: Matt Parish

Key players

Ben Roberts

The halfback has been in great form this past Super League season, starring alongside his halves partner Luke Gale in Castleford’s run to their first final.

He has certainly matured since his time in the NRL and this has held him in good stead as ten tries and 12 try-assists have shown this season. He has also proven to be much the ball runner, making over 2,200 metres which includes 100 tackle breaks (20 clean breaks). A busy player, expect him to provide a headache for opposing defenses.

Josh Papalii

The Canberra back-rower, an Australian and Queensland representative, will be a key part of the forward pack, bringing the type of aggression that is reflective of past Samoan sides. This will be the first time he pulls on a Samoan jersey.

He’s had a solid season this year in the NRL, averaging 140 metres per match alongside seven line breaks, and making 24 tackles on each occasion. Watch out for him to be a cornerstone in terms of hit-ups, making defenses really have to work to bring him down.

Strengths

With Papali and the likes of Frank Pritchard and Junior Paulo in the mix, expect the Samoan pack to be extremely physical. They are known for their bruising approach, and New Zealand could be left a bit more than vulnerable to their assault, missing key players Jason Taumalolo, Kevin Proctor and Jesse Bromwich. If they can make the metres they are capable of producing (with Paulo also averaging over 140 metres for the Raiders this season), then they will be able to bring Ben Roberts into play.

They also have a number of NRL players in the squad who have played rugby league at the first grade level and will draw on that big game experience for the World Cup.

Weaknesses

They might be found wanting up the ruck with their big forwards and will have to be on their game, to stop the ones especially on their own line.

They also have generally found to be more error-prone, and against the larger nations, that can mean the difference between a close game and a blowout. While they have some hard workers in their ranks, they lack some general star quality, so the team game plans will need to be well focused.

Fixtures

Date and TimeOpponentVenue
Saturday 28 October, 6.10pm AESTNew ZealandAuckland
Saturday November 4, 5.30pm AESTTongaHamilton
Saturday November 11, 6pm AESTScotlandCairns

Prediction

Samoa are in a tough pool alongside New Zealand and Tonga. Their all- Pacific Island clash in Hamilton is sure to be a fiery, physical encounter. Despite winning three of their last four against their Island neighbours, I don’t see them overcoming the newly reformed Tongan outfit, and therefore their last pool game against Scotland would become a must-win.

With their team of NRL stars, they are a side capable of pushing the bigger nations. They will make the quarter-finals, as they did in 2013, and an upset to make the semi-final is not beyond them.

How far can Samoa get in the 2017 World Cup? Let us know in the comments below.

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Ahmad Khawaja

Cricket and Rugby League Staff Writer at RealSport

Ahmad is a passionate follower and preacher of Cricket. Born in New Zealand, now living in Australia, and of Pakistani descent, the sport most definitely runs in his blood.

Having worked in Assurance at big 4 firm EY for a number of years with New Zealand Cricket among his client base, he has come to appreciate the inner workings of leading cricket organisations that govern the great game.

In his spare time he follows a number of other sports including rugby league, union and tennis, plays competitive indoor and outdoor cricket, writes and undertakes acting in TV programmes and commercials.

Rugby League World Cup Preview: Samoa

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