Why Samoa’s World Cup success could produce party in the USA
From Oklahoma to Kansas City, Los Angeles, El Paso, Salt Lake City, Portland, San Francisco and Phoenix, Toa Samoa’s appearance in the World Cup final may help rugby league to finally gain attention in the United States.
They are just some of the American cities where Samoan communities have organised street parades or motorcades to show their support for the Pacific nation in the decider against Australia at Old Trafford.
“It’s pretty crazy that it has gone global, and it just means a lot to not only myself and the players in our squad, but to the people of Samoa to see all the support we have received,” Samoa centre Stephen Crichton said.
“Samoan flags have been getting sold out everywhere around the world, even back home, so people have been getting pretty crafty and knitting red and blue together.”
In another sign of the significance of the team’s achievement in becoming the first Pacific nation to make a World Cup final, Samoa Prime Minister Afioga Fiame Naomi Mataafa has travelled to England to attend the match at Old Trafford.
“That is how much it means to our little nation,” Samoa coach Matt Parish said. “Families of the players are turning up now too, so it is pretty special to be around our hotel with the kids and parents and partners.”
Samoa’s World Cup success has been built on family connections and players wanting to do parents and grandparents proud by representing their heritage.
Besides Crichton and Tim Lafai, few of the players were born in Samoa but their ties to the Pacific nation remain strong, as do those of Johnson, the American actor and former professional wrestler, whose mother is Samoan.
“Representing Samoa is massive for our families, ourselves and our villages in Samoa,” second-rower Jaydyn Su’A said.
That depth has been severely tested, with eight members of the 24-man squad initially named for the World Cup – Luciano Leilua, Tyrone May, Izack Tago, Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow, Braden Hamlin-Uele, Josh Aloiai, Danny Levi and Nu Brown – now unavailable.
Lafai and fellow England-based players Ligi Sao and Ken Sio were called into the squad, while Chanel Harris-Tevita has assumed the dummy half duties for what will be his last match before taking a sabbatical from the game.
It’s not the Warriors playmaker’s usual position, but he has never tasted defeat in his six previous Test appearances.
“It is just about the next man stepping up,” Parish said. “If you look at the performances of Tim Lafai and Ligi Sao, they have been enormous for us. They have had to step up when we have had injuries and they certainly have.
“It’s a pretty special group of people we have got at the moment.”
Samoa also suffered a 60-6 loss in the tournament opener against England but Parish ensured that the self-belief in the squad never waned and they bounced back to beat the host nation 27-26 in last weekend’s semi-final.
“It may sound like a silly thing to say after we had just been pumped by 60 points, but I told them straight after the game that I still believed we could do something special in this tournament,” Parish said.
“We did a review the next day and had a talk about where we wanted to be. Our first goal was to make the quarter finals.
“After that we still had to beat England and Tonga, one way or another, to get to the final so the result of the first game, whether we got beat by one point or 50, didn’t matter.”
Crichton said much of the credit for the turn-around should go to Parish, who has been the target of heavy criticism and personal attacks since the 2017 World Cup.
“He was disappointed after the first game, like we all were, but one thing he did say after that game was that he still had 100 per cent belief in us, and we obviously all did as well,” Crichton said.
“If we were to take it out it would be a massive win not just for us but for Samoa.”