Mason slams Parish as coaching saga deepens

The saga of former Australian rugby league legends offering to take over Samoa's national team has taken a new twist as former top Polynesian player Willie Mason called for the team's coach to be sacked. 

Andrew and Matthew Johns said earlier this month that they would be interested in coaching the Toa Samoa team alongside another former rugby league star, Sonny Bill Williams. 

The former players, widely considered to be among the greatest in the modern era, earlier this month said they wanted to lift the team’s performance to make them contenders for the Rugby League World Cup. Their services, they said, would be free of charge. (Former league star Sonny Bill Williams’ father was born in Samoa). 

But the team’s current coach, Matt Parish, instead suggested the players join the team as assistant coaches. The offer of working under Parish was flatly declined by the former players. 

“They’ve made the decision to stay on the path they’re on and I accept that,” Andrew Johns said earlier this month. 

“But you don’t make changes by laying out witches’ hats as someone’s assistant coach.”

But on Saturday it was reported that former rugby league star Willie Mason, who was born to a Tongan-Samoan mother, slammed Parish’s decision to not stand down.  

Mason, who represented both Australia and Tonga on the international stage, said the decision would deny Samoa the opportunity to become a rugby league powerhouse. 

Speaking on his podcast, The Take, Mason took aim at Parish and said he was standing in the way of national rugby league success. 

“Players are talking, whether it’s former players like Nigel Vagana or Tony Puletua, Iosia Soliola, Reni Matua, players who have a lot of credibility in the game, they have not said one good word about Parish,” Mason said.

“Everything we touched on last week is exactly how it is. The disrespecting of the culture, the payments, it’s just reiterated everything we said last week. Guys like Iosia Soliola and Nigel Vagana, they don’t say much.

“They know the Samoan team is onto something special but something needs to happen board-wise and coach-wise. You change that coach and there would be a plethora of Samoan young kids and superstar players. This is not part-time footballers anymore back in 2008 or 2013.

“In 2021 you’re going to get the real deal, Big Papa, Junior Paulo, Payne Haas – to name a couple of names. 

"These guys are [...superstars…]  in the [Australian National Rugby League], they want to play for Samoa, they just need a coach. So just sack him or you need to stand down.”

A group of current and former players even signed a letter to Samoan Prime Minister Tuiaepa Sailele Malielegaoi demanding Parish and his coaching staff be sacked – a development first revealed by The Daily Telegraph earlier this week.

Parish argued the players had been “coerced” into signing the letter and said the Prime Minister had dismissed it as “disrespectful”.

The Toa Samoa has currently lost eight of its last nine matches. 

Mason and other critics say changing the team’s coach could lead to a surge in form similar to that of Tonga who, with several star players on their team, reached the semi-finals of the 2017 World Cup. 

Mason said the amount of rugby league available to Samoa was “unbelievable” and did not reflect their recent string of losses in international fixtures. 

It was not possible to seek a comment from Parish on Saturday.

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