Despite the challenges and obstacles, rugby league has once again shown the way forward in terms of how international test matches should be.
We’re talking about the decision by the powers that be in the game to make available a host of NRL stars for the Pacific test matches last weekend in Parramatta.
With the exception of a couple of players who weren’t able to commit for one reason or another – including Anthony Milford - there were enough quality footballers on all sides to keep audiences interested and in the end rugby league as a sport was clearly the winner.
Indeed, the ability for Samoa, Tonga, Fiji and Papua New Guinea to pick some of the best league players on the planet so that they can run out in their country’s colours resulted in two spectacular games we will remember for a long time to come. The first game for the way Papua New Guinea upset Fiji.
Of course it’s easy to remember Toa Samoa, especially when they win. And there is no sweeter feeling than seeing our Toa Samoa give Mate Ma’a from Tonga a good old fashion hiding.
Okay maybe the word hiding is pushing it but the win was sweet – if you are a Samoan. Prior to the game, we talked about the history of rivalry between the two nations. We talked about two proud nations who would not give an inch in the heat of the battle.
And that’s precisely what we saw on Saturday night – when an entire nation paused and people glued to their TV sets to support their team. There was pride, passion, aggression and plenty of big hits.
It was a fiery encounter from the word go. There was tension from the time the teams did the stare down, their war dances all the way through until the very last whistle. It was beautiful to watch.
What was even more impressive was the caliber of players involved and how much of a difference they bring to the game. With all the players having had NRL experience, there was fluidity, parts of it was clinical, there was plenty of quality football played.
Contrast that to a game featuring a bunch of amateurs and I guarantee you that the quality of such a game would have been totally the opposite. We would have been bored out of our wits.
Which brings us back to the point about making these top players available – especially if they are unwanted by countries like Australia and New Zealand. This is something rugby union can learn from rugby league. Imagine all those players of Samoan descent in Super rugby – unwanted by the All Blacks and Wallabies for their test squads – being made available to don the blue jersey of the Manu Samoa. How much of a difference would that make?
There is no doubt in our minds that coach Namulauulu Alama Ieremia’s Manu Samoa squad for this year would have looked a lot different if that was the case. There are so many players who could represent Samoa, Tonga, Fiji and other smaller nations, thereby making the game more interesting to watch.
You see, we shouldn’t judge the decision by Samoan players who choose those countries for reasons that are obvious. It’s not as easy as we think.
But at least the authorities of rugby league have got it right by releasing most of the players to represent a country of their choice.
And that to me is sensible. It’s the right thing to do.
This can only contribute to the development of the sport and growing the interest among supporters and audiences around the world who will want to see more test matches.
No one wants to watch a boring game, let alone one played by bunch of amateurs when we know there are better players that could give us a better game. We all want to see the best in action and Saturday’s rugby league test provided that and more. It was a wonderful exhibition for the sport, even more so bringing out the best in the players who are immensely proud of their bloodlines. There is no doubt that this concept by rugby league can only get better and bigger. We can hardly wait.
Speaking of anticipations, the announcement that Samoa is hosting Fiji in October in what will be the first rugby league international test match on these shores is exciting news. Let’s hope the majority of the players we saw in action on Saturday will be able to make the trip across for the game.
On a sad note, it’s been reported that the Toa Samoa players were not paid for their efforts against Tonga. That is heartbreaking; it is daylight robbery, if the reports are true. We shouldn’t allow this to happen.
There is so much potential for Samoa to go far in this sport. While we believe the international rugby league authorities should do more, locally we shouldn’t rest on our laurels.
We believe the government should jump in to help fund this campaign. A lot of those players will probably not make a big deal out of it but we just know it is the right thing to do. They gave their all for their country and the least they deserve is a small token to show our appreciation. Well done, Toa Samoa!