Pita Godinet of Samoa celebrates a try during the Four Nations match against England. Photo: Getty Images
“Our depth is the Samoan team.”
That was former Kangaroos captain Brad Fittler’s take on what had happened to Australia’s often touted pools of talent when asked during an interview with the BBC last weekend to explain why the world champions were not dominating the Four Nations as they had in the past.
For decades it has been claimed Australia could pick three or four teams capable of beating other nations but with 37 per cent of present NRL players being of Polynesian heritage, and even higher percentages at junior representative level, that is rapidly changing – as has been demonstrated in the end of season tournament.
Of the present 24-man Australian squad, Josh Papalii and Sione Mata’utia could be playing for Samoa against the Kangaroos at WIN Stadium on Sunday, while Michael Jennings and Daniel Tupou have previously represented Tonga.
With Samoa’s Joey Leilua, Josh McGuire, Tim Lafai and Daniel Vidot all tipped as future State of Origin prospects, along with Fiji’s Semi Radradra, Kane Evans and Tariq and Korbin Sims, PNG hooker James Segayaro and Cook Islands prop Dylan Napa, the representation of players with Polynesian heritage is set to increase.
But while the lure of Origin means many will do as Anthony Milford has done and choose Australia (or Queensland) over Samoa, the Kangaroos cannot pick everyone and the emergence of so many players of Pacific Island heritage at last appears to have created meaningful international competition.
“We are still breeding home grown players but we never had Tonga, we never had Samoa, we never had Fiji and now we have got those teams, ” former Australian coach and selector Bob Fulton said. “The ones who are born and bred in Australia, if they are not selected in the Australian side, they filter back to the island nations and they become stronger.
“It has been absolutely brilliant for the game and could you imagine if we had a composite side of players out of those Pacific island teams. They would be serious competition for England, New Zealand and also Australia.”
THE PACIFIC EXPLOSION
Kangaroos coach Tim Sheens recalls how he and Canberra assistant Dean Lance attended the 1992 Pacific Cup in Auckland to recruit players and they were the only club there.
“There were no managers, no clubs and the Warriors weren’t around at that time, ” Sheens said. “There was talent everywhere and we not only brought back Noa Nadruku but John Lomax, Quentin Pongia, Sean Hoppe and Ruben Wiki were all identified at that tournament. I don’t even know if the Pacific Cup still runs but players these days are all pre-identified.”
As an example, St George Illawarra this week welcomed Albert Viali and Gordon Lemisio from Samoa for a six-week trial after they were identified by Dragons officials during a visit to the island nation in May.