Today we join the Head of State, His Highness Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Efi, Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi and the proud people of Samoa to wish Rugby League Samoa (R.L.S) a happy 30th birthday.
We want to congratulate the President of R.L.S, Tagaloa Faafouina Su’a, his management team and everyone – including the businesses – who have played a critical part in the development of the sport over the years.
We should not forget the pioneers of the sport – some of them have been called home – who toiled with sweat and tears to establish the foundation upon which this great sport stands on in this country.
Today is a day of celebration.
It is a moment to rejoice, reflect and celebrate the achievements of yester years.
It’s also a time to look to the future with much optimism knowing that hard work, and an unquestionable commitment to set goals and faith in the almighty God will take rugby league further.
Indeed, thirty years is a long time.
There would have been challenges that could have easily toppled and seen the sport plummet to depths where it would have been lost forever.
But that didn’t happen. Alas the people responsible for developing it shared an insatiable vision so that they never gave up. The challenges only made them stronger so that here we are today in Apia on the verge of history being created for this sport.
The truth is that rugby league is very much underrated in this country. Not enough is said about its achievements when it probably deserves more support, funding and attention due to Toa Samoa’s results on the field. While their much fancier brothers in rugby union enjoy most of the limelight, the Toa Samoa boys are the overachievers and have been largely under celebrated.
The statistics speak for themselves. Ranked fourth in the world, they were within whiskers of toppling the mighty Kiwis as well as the Kangaroos during the recent Four Nations tournament where their performance drew world wide attention to what this team is capable of.
Of course rugby league is more than just the Toa Samoa.
It is also about the work that is being done in Samoa to develop the domestic competitions, especially at grassroots level. While a lot of work remains to be done to lift the grassroots development, President Tagaloa and his team have been working extremely hard to unearth the talents available in Samoa with the idea of promoting them to bigger and better opportunities overseas.
The truth is this. Samoans are built for league. Our athletes have the physicality and natural abilities the sport needs. What’s lacking however is technical expertise on how to fine tune those attributes so that local players can truly realise their potential.
But a Samoan is a Samoan no matter what. It’s true that the bulk of the Toa Samoa taking the field today are based overseas and playing professionally in Australia and elsewhere. This is one wonderful aspect about league. Although Toa Samoa is missing a lot of their big name players, the team they are fielding today is still a very formidable pack with tons of N.R.L experience.
We cannot say the same thing about rugby union. We all know the stories about how some of our best players have been denied the opportunity to represent Samoa simply because of World Rugby’s stupid rules.
But this is one area rugby league has done extremely well in. It will go a long way to enhancing the image of the game as well as growing the interest among young players. Crowds like to see big name players take the field.
In today’s clash at the Apia Park, there will not just be one big name. Just about everyone of those players – including the Fijian squad – are big names in their own right. What a privilege it is to have them play in Samoa, for the first ever rugby league test match. The clash should be a cracker.
Throughout the week, we’ve heard from both coaching staff and players about how excited they are. They know this is a big occasion and with Rugby League Samoa’s 30th birthday, it’s an occasion for the ages.
Toa Samoa are going out to end the local celebration on a massive high. They will be gunning for nothing less than a win for themselves, the sport and our nation.
But Fiji have other plans. They are here to spoil the party and just by observing their demeanour during training and in public this week, Toa Samoa would take them lightly at their own peril.
Enough said. It’s time to get this show on the road. All the talk about history and what have you is done. All that’s left now is to get your blue on, head down to Apia Park and let’s hope our Toa Samoa bring their A game today.
Go Toa Samoa!