By Ben Ryder
With the second round of Oceania Cup games scheduled in October/November 2019, Rugby League Planet takes an in-depth look at each competing island nation and what the game of Rugby League is doing for them, as well as their strengths, weaknesses, and the nations chances at winning their respective pools.
This week it’s Toa Samoa
Recent History: Samoa have been lacklustre in recent times, with their win over a gallant Papua New Guinea in June snapping a 6 game winning drought that extended all the way back to 2016. Against PNG, Samoa displayed flashes of brilliance from the likes of Anthony Milford and young gun Chanel Harris-Tavita, but their win was far from dominant- leaving it until the 65th minute to go more than one try clear of PNG on the scoreboard.
Strengths: Their power running game. They have some monster forwards in the likes of Martin Taupau, Josh Papalii, Junior Paulo, Herman Ese’ese and James Gavet who can trample defenders and get over the try line at will. Throw in Jorge Taufua and Joseph Leilua from the backline and suddenly there are players all over the park who have the ability to literally break a game wide open with pure strength.
Weaknesses: Despite Samoa’s NRL player heavy roster, they never seem to be able to pull together as a cohesive unit. Their disastrous World Campaign is a testament to this, losing every single game bar a draw with a lowly Scotland. There were rumblings at the time that the players were putting in underwhelming efforts at training, some even leaving camp overweight as they returned to their respective NRL teams. Whether it is along the lines of effort or just not having strong enough combinations in the spine, Toa Samoa must get to the heart of their problems if they want to put up a fight against two strong sides in Fiji and Papua New Guinea.
Their X-Factor: Martin Taupau has helped lead a rejuvenated Manly side back into finals contention this year on the back of tough, hardworking consistency. Racking up an average of 151 running meters per game to go with his 92.2% tackle efficiency, the stats speak volumes of how lucky Samoa are to have him back in the side (Taupau of course choosing to switch allegiances from New Zealand to Samoa after playing 24 games in the black and white, although he has represented Samoa on one prior occasion in 2013). Taupau brings an un-coachable extra grit and determination to the team, as well as bolstering an already monster forward pack.
Rising Star: Chanel Harris-Tavita hadn’t even debuted for the Warriors this time last year, let alone played in his first international, but after 8 NRL career games the Toa Samoa selectors had seen enough for him to get the nod in the halves alongside Anthony Milford for the June test against PNG. An electric five-eighth who has outstanding confidence for a young half, Harris-Tavita has struggled to cement a starting spot in the NRL this year (mainly due to the Warriors merry-go-round of halves) but his natural ability forced Stephen Kearney to give him a spot on the bench, eventually making his way back into the starting side to deputise an injured Nikorima. Watch for Chanel Harris-Tevita to take on the defensive line with devastating footwork and speed in the dying stages.
What It Means To Them: Although they are not enjoying quite the same level of success as the neighbouring Mate Ma’a side, Samoa’s fan base is still as loud and passionate as ever. The fans rise for every occasion, but especially against other island nations. And with Toa Samoa having some genuine NRL game breakers in their team, you can be rest assured (Tuivasa-Sheck or not) Samoa will have a sea of blue following them as they look to take out Pool B and bring some much desired silverware to their loyal fans.