Five things to be excited about come the NRL world cup: Part I – Pasifika Passion

Tonga and Samoa Pre Game
Photo Credit: Getty Images/Cover Art

The North of England in October is usually known for a few things; the Premier League, grey skies and rain. This year, however, there will be one more thing, 2021, or should I say the 2022-ish, Rugby League World Cup.

International football will soar to new heights after having the brakes so unceremoniously pumped, thanks to COVID. This year’s competition will feature 20 nations, 61 games and three formats of the game over a myriad of stadiums across the country’s North and looks to be the strongest World Cup yet. The mid-season Pacific Tests offered a tantalizing preview of what we can expect from some Tier 2 nations and the insanely stacked NZ Team. With the tournament’s commencement imminent and squads slowly being announced and whittled down to their final 24, here are five things that tickle my fancy in particular (and should probably tickle yours).

In this five-part series, I summarise the five most exciting things about this iteration of the rugby league world cup.

Part 1 – Pacifika Passion

After Jason Taumololo’s infamous defection from the Kiwis to the Mate Ma’a Tonga on the eve of the previous World Cup in 2017, droves of Pasifika players have been electing to represent the countries of their heritage and their parents.

This is, without a doubt, the 1 number thing for me to be excited about as a man whose club is brimming with Toa Samoa’s finest. The result is undoubtedly the finest collection of pacific talent we’ve ever seen.

Tonga is again headlined by the embodiment of the two extremes of what a rugby league player’s body should look like in the Cowboy’s thicc (with two c’s of course) middle Jason Taumololo and the lanky Rooster’s winger Daniel Tupou, affectionately nicknamed the “Giraffe’. This squad, however, is filled with Tier 1 talent across the park (except maybe the halves…but let’s not get greedy).

The outside backs offer plenty of strike in Cronulla’s Sione Katoa and Parramatta’s book youngster Will Penisini. At the same time, the forwards offer the other nation’s big boys an insight into how a walnut must feel moments before being thrown into a nutcracker with Canturburys’ Tevita Pangai Jnr, South’s Keon Koloamatangi and, of course, the Warrior’s Addin Fonua-Blake looking likely to be in the final squad.

As mentioned above, the halves leave a little to the imagination, with the Dragon’s Junior Amone and Huddersfield’s Tuimoala Lolohea set to be jockeying for the starting spots. A playmaker to keep an eye on is the Dolphins-bound halfback Isaiya Katoa, who has starred in both the SG Ball and Jersey Flegg competitions for the Riff. Could this be his introduction to the broader League world?

Staying in the Pacific, the Toa Samoa side is by far the most talented they’ve produced, and this is while dealing with their fair share of coaching speculation. Like the mid-season Pacific Tests, Samoa’s big guns include Penrith’s young combo; Taylan May and Izack Tago, and Manly stalwart’s Josh Aloiai (a.k.a Oshay Olay ) and Marty Taupau. This time however they are joined by a band of Origin stars who were unavailable for those games. These include the Penrith trio of Jerome Luai, Stephen Crichton and Brian To’o, who gives coach Matt Parish selection nightmares. Then there is the colossal reveal that the Rooster’s soon-to-be superstar Joseph Sua’ali’i has chosen to represent Samoa over the green and gold and will only further the race for backline spots, particularly at fullback at which Sua’ali’i and Crichton have shown a fondness.

For their forward strength, Canberra’s cult hero Josh Papali’i has elected to play in the front row for the team of his lineage.

Seeing these two go head to head is a thought leaving tournament organizers salivating. However, as they’re not in the same group, this requires a few moving parts to fall into place.

Tonga headlines Group D, with PNG realistically the primary challenger. Samoa sits in Group A, battling host England for the top spot. The most likely outcome is these 2 playing each other on Sunday, 6/11/22 when the Group D Winner plays the Runner-Up of Group A, which would be must-see TV. There’s an outsider’s chance of them playing a day earlier when the Group A Winner faces the D Runner Up (what a run from PNG if so). Seeing these squads face off in the later stages would also be immense if the football gods shine kindly on them. It’s a shame that the bracket means we can’t see them square off in a final… Alas, there is always 2025.

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