Samoa to host rugby league internationals
Samoa will host future Oceania Cup international rugby league matches as part of a rolling 10-year international calendar.
Rugby League International Federation (R.L.I.F.) Chief Executive Officer, Nigel Wood told NRL.com on the eve of this weekend’s Oceania Cup opening round that the international body wanted to play games in the Pacific Islands.
The R.L.I.F.’s ambition is to have at least eight countries with a chance of winning the World Cup and it is hoped playing regular matches in the Oceania Cup will help Samoa, Fiji and Papua New Guinea to emulate the rise of Tonga in 2017.
There will be no Oceania Cup in 2021 as the World Cup is being staged in England but from 2022 onwards the R.L.I.F. will look to schedule matches in Tonga, Samoa and Fiji.
“We’ve got to fulfill our pledge to play international matches not just in Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea,” Wood said.
“The P.N.G. initiative was very well received in the World Cup and they are a good, strong international country with the potential to stage more regular test matches than they are.
“We need a similar discussion in places like Samoa, Fiji and Tonga, in particular, where they have got facilities that are capable of staging world class events.”
A pre-season trial between two N.R.L. teams is set to be played in the Pacific each year under an agreement with the Federal Government.
“We do have to respect the athletes in the standards they would expect to be accommodated in and the training facilities, and the clubs would have a view of that, but if we are being sincere in wanting to develop the Pacific we have to make sure matches take place in the islands themselves,” Wood said.
Wood said the details were now being worked on and an announcement would be made later in the year.
With Martin Taupau switching allegiances from New Zealand, Samoa could become the next international powerhouse and Wood said the game owed thanks to Tonga stars Jason Taumalolo and Andrew Fifita for making it “fashionable” for players to represent their nation of heritage.
“If a by-product of that is that we get a really strong series of nations then three cheers to that,” he said.
“If we can get to eight powerful nations who are competitive against each other so that by the time you get to the quarter-finals in any world competition they are all fair dinkum matches that is an aspiration we should have.”
The Fetu Samoa open this year’s Oceania Cup on Saturday with a game against the Kiwi Ferns at Mt Smart Stadium, Auckland (4:10 pm Samoan time), before the Toa Samoa take on P.N.G. at Leichhardt Oval, Sydney (10:55 pm Samoan time).