If the hype were anything to judge by, Mate Ma’a from Tonga would have already won the Rugby League World Cup. That much is undeniable.
And they might too, who knows?
On paper they have the dream team, arguably stronger – on paper we stress again – than the Kiwis and our very own Toa Samoa. This is perhaps the reason for the mad celebrations we, and the rest of the rugby league world, have been intently following with the Tongan team during the past couple of weeks.
Come to think of it, if this is how they celebrate the naming and coming together of their team, imagine what might happen if they start to win and make the playoffs?
It’s sure going to be crazy over in Nukualofa.
But that’s okay. Tonga deserves the good times too, even if it’s merely the celebration of a coup where two of the biggest names in rugby league have turned their backs on Australia and New Zealand for their homeland.
We are interested in the case of Tonga because the draw for league’s ultimate showpiece means Mate Ma’a and the Toa Samoa are heading for a collision cause in Hamilton.
Now speaking of that, the other team in that clash, in complete contrast, has taken a very different approach to that of Tonga.
Without a number of their star players who are unavailable through injuries and other reasons, Toa Samoa have chosen to keep a very low profile ahead of the tournament.
The team quietly slipped into the country last Sunday.
Apart from a couple of media interviews, many of them featured on the pages of your newspaper, the players time has been divided between training and staying focused on the mission at hand. Even the farewell was nothing spectacular. It was a quiet send off – if Tonga’s standards are anything to go by.
Coach Matt Parish has revealed there is a reason behind their decision.
“It’s time to work hard and prepare well. People can say what they want to say but there is a time for everything,” he said.
“At this moment, we want to do our talking on the field. It’s been great. The boys have enjoyed being here in Apia, Samoa so far with our training going well and the people here have been fantastic.”
The low-key preparations have allowed the team to focus, he said.
“It’s exciting; we’ve got some really young exciting talent coming through,” he said.
“We are probably missing nine or ten players who couldn’t be available to this team but they have been injured and that’s unfortunate.
“But that shows how far we have come with Toa Samoa you know we can have that many players unavailable yet we still have such a strong and powerful squad and no doubt if we play well we will compete very well.
“If we can play well, we can sure compete with any team in the world.”
Captain Frank Pritchard is equally optimistic. For the Toa Samoa, it’s all about pride in the jersey, families and Samoa.
“Playing for Toa Samoa means everything. It’s about culture, heritage, identity and family,” he said.
“I am excited and confident and also Coach Parish and his faith in the squad and I think we will be performing well.”
We definitely hope so too.
Keep in mind that Toa Samoa really is in the pool of death. Their first test this time next Saturday is against the Kiwis who are undoubtedly brassed off at Tonga for taking a number of their key players.
And with all the other controversies surrounding the Kiwi team as well, New Zealand will look to use the home advantage to send an early message that they mean business.
Looking at the Toa Samoa, it’s hard to say for certain what we can expect. Their only warm up match was against an Under 23 team from Country which they won. But that was hardly convincing.
What we can be sure of though is that even with a number of key players being absent and unavailable, there is plenty of quality football left in Toa Samoa if they find the right gear.
The team features a good mix of experienced and new blood. Parish needs to find the right combinations and stick with them. The match against New Zealand should give them the perfect test to prepare for that mouthwatering clash with Mate Ma’a the following week.
Now we know the World Cup is important. But if we somehow manage to upset the highly-rated Tongan team, that should be our World Cup.
It should also ensure the party shifts to our shores where it should be.
Good luck Toa Samoa, have a wonderful weekend Samoa, God bless!