‘Leave war to us’
Toa Samoa and Mate Ma’a are ready for a war of epic proportions when they clash in tonight’s much-anticipated Rugby League World Cup match in Hamilton, New Zealand.
But it is a battle of a different kind that has players, officials and the New Zealand Police worried as tensions build ahead of the match. That is a clash between Samoan and Tongan fans heading down to Hamilton.
For the past few days, tensions have been rising between the supporters of the teams, since a picture emerged of a Samoan flag being burnt.
Samoans have retaliated by ripping a Tongan flag and posting threatening remarks on social media. As of yesterday, six people have been arrested by the New Zealand Police.
The NZ Herald reported that there was a brawl involving some 200 fans at the Otara Mall carpark, with one wielding a machete.
Yesterday’s Hamilton’s Mayor, Andrew King, pleaded for peace.
"The two island nations also have a huge sporting rivalry - and that rivalry needs to stay on the field," King said.
King added that he did not want any of the behavior that has occurred in South Auckland to happen in Hamilton.
"We don't want that sort of behaviour in Hamilton.
"We welcome good-natured support for these two teams, and we want to see respect for everyone involved in the game - the players, the officials, the staff running the event, and all the fans attending.
"We have a Pasifika Fan Fest on Saturday before the game and our Service of Celebration planned for Claudelands on Sunday - that's our focus: safe and family-friendly fun."
Players from Toa Samoa and Tonga have appealed for calm.
Toa Samoa prop, Sam Tagataese, has called for respect between fans from both nations.
"From the players' point of view, we call out to both [sets of] fans from both nations to show respect to each other," Tagataese is quoted as saying by Stuff.
"This game has given us a lot as players but when we were growing up, we were taught respect. As much as we respect each other on the field, we respect each other outside it as well."
Tagataese said he wanted tonight’s game to be remembered for the right reasons.
"It's a monumental moment for both nations playing here in Hamilton and New Zealand where there are lots of Tongans and Samoans," Tagataese said.
"From last night and the events that are happening, the boys are very displeased about it and we don't support what is happening out there.
"What we do support is that they come to the game, support the brothers and support the game of league that has really supported us."
Former heavyweight boxer, Toaletai David Tua has also joined the chorus of respected figures – including Labour MPs Jenny Salesa, who is of Tongan descent, and Aupito Su’a William Sio, of Samoan descent, calling for calm.
"If you believe that you have what it takes to be a fighter, please call me," Tua said. "I'm easy to find, I'm in Onehunga. Get in the ring and make something beautiful of yourself."
New Zealand Police have indicated that they will not tolerate disorder and anti-social behaviour surrounding the game tonight.
"Police is committed to ensuring a safe, secure and enjoyable Rugby League World Cup for all involved and, along with a range of other agencies, we have been planning for the tournament for some time," a Police spokesperson said.
Tonga haven't beaten Samoa since 2013 but are heavy favourites following the defection of star players from New Zealand and Australia, which included the shock switch of allegiances from Jason Taumalolo and Andrew Fifita.
The Tongans opened their World Cup campaign by thrashing Scotland 50-4 in Cairns and Tagataese said the pressure was on them to deliver, with many tipping Tonga to reach the semi-finals alongside the big three of Australia, New Zealand and England.
But this is good for Samoa, Tagataese said.
"Tonga have got to live up to all the hype and we just have to concentrate on what we can do and how we're going to play,” he said.
"It will be some spectacle on Saturday night and hopefully it gives fans something they want to see."
The game will be screened live by TV1 starting at 8.30pm.