Toa Samoa, Fetu Samoa head coaches appointed

By Talaia Mika 19 September 2023, 8:18PM

Toa Samoa and Fetu Samoa will begin their preparations for the 2023 Pacific Championships next month bolstered by the appointments of new head coaches.

President of Rugby League Samoa (RSL), Fiu Ponifasio Vasa confirmed the appointments of Australia-based Ben Gardiner and Jamie Soward in a press conference in Apia on Tuesday afternoon. 

Gardiner, who is currently an assistant coach with Australia's National Rugby League (NRL) premiers Penrith Panthers, will take over from Mau-a-Pule Matt Parish. The Australian stepped down from his position two months ago after leading Samoa’s national rugby league team to a historic Rugby League World Cup grand final in November last year. 

"Many applied but we've selected someone with much experience and with much involvement in the sport, not only he’s involved with four top teams who are heading to the finals this week," said Fiu at the press conference. "But also with his previous experience being involved with international tournaments and world cups in the previous years.

"He has also spent much time with Pacific players."

According to Fiu, seven international applications were submitted to the RLS Committee with no locals expressing interest in the head coach role. Gardiner was the assistant coach for New Zealand in 2017 and was born and raised in Aotearoa. He was also the former Western Suburbs Magpies coach in Australia's second-tier competition the NSW Cup. 

The RLS Committee was also confident about Gardiner's involvement and bonding with the Toa Samoa players, who currently play for the Penrith Panthers in the NRL. 

However, the only worry for the RLS management is the new head coach's involvement with the NRL finals with the Penrith Panthers scheduled to take on the Melbourne Storm this Friday for a place in the 1 October NRL grand final. 

But Fiu said their coaching staff have been reminded of their responsibility to reach out to the players ahead of next month's international fixtures. 

Asked about how long he will serve as Toa Samoa's head coach, Fiu said there is no official timeframe for the new coach's contract.

"We are focusing on the Pacific Championships which is what the executives have also decided, we are looking at Pacific Championships which is an ongoing tournament yearly, an international fixture that is in the International Rugby League's calendar but for our coach, we will only look at the Pacific Championship.

"Two games have been confirmed, if we win then we will proceed to the final which means we will have three games then we will review the coach [position] and look at what's ahead."

According to next month's Pacific Championships' participation agreement, the Toa Samoa squad should camp seven days before the start of the matches which will be played during the White Sunday long weekend in Samoa.

The RLS Committee has also selected St George Illawarra Dragons legend Jamie Soward to be the head coach of Fetu Samoa, Samoa's women's rugby league team for the Pacific Championships.

Soward is an Indigenous All-Stars representative five-eighth who previously played for the Sydney Roosters, Penrith Panthers and the St. George Illawarra Dragons.

He will be assisted by Keil Stanley – who was a former Toa Samoa player but was forced to quit his professional career due to injuries – and is now coaching. 

Soward is currently the head coach of the St George Illawarra Dragons women's team in the NRLW competition in Australia. He will soon start as the new coach for the Fetu together with Stanley, and will by then also select his coaching staff in preparation for the Pacific Championships next month.

The Fetu is scheduled to play their first Pacific Championships match on 15 October 2023. The Toa Samoa and the Fetu squads are scheduled to meet on 7 October 2023 before the Pacific Championships kicks off. Toa Samoa will play Australia and New Zealand in October. 

For the Pacific Championship, the International Rugby League (IRL) has been urged by the RLS Committee to include the Pacific Championships in the professional code's annual calendar, according to the president.

The Pacific Championship is divided into two divisions, the Pacific Cup where New Zealand and Australia are to join Samoa, and the Pacific Bowl which groups Fiji, Papua New Guinea and the Cook Islands. The matches for both divisions will be held at around the same time next month with the inclusion of the women's national team known as the Fetu Samoa.

2023 Pacific Championships Schedule

Week One – October 14-15

Australia v Samoa (men) at Queensland Country Bank Stadium, Townsville

Australia v New Zealand (women) at Queensland Country Bank Stadium, Townsville

PNG v Cook Islands (men) at Santos Stadium, Port Moresby

Samoa v Fiji (women) at Santos Stadium, Port Moresby

Week Two – October 21-22

New Zealand v Samoa (men) at Eden Park, Auckland

New Zealand v Tonga (women) at Eden Park, Auckland

Fiji v Cook Islands (men) at Santos Stadium, Port Moresby

PNG v Cook Islands (women) at Santos Stadium, Port Moresby

Week Three – October 28-29

Australia v New Zealand (men) at AAMI Park, Melbourne

Australia v New Zealand (women) at AAMI Park, Melbourne

PNG v Fiji (men) at Santos Stadium, Port Moresby

Week Four – November 4-5

The Final of the men’s Pacific Cup tournament on November 4 in Hamilton, New Zealand

The Final of the men’s Pacific Bowl tournament on November 5 at Santos Stadium, Port Moresby

By Talaia Mika 19 September 2023, 8:18PM
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