League: Island nations calling up big guns for World Cup

By Michael Brown

Samoa names 16 NRL players in squad and Tonga also has a swag of stars

Jason Taumalolo. Photo / NZ Herald
Jason Taumalolo. Photo / NZ Herald

It must be World Cup year when Samoa can name 16 NRL players in their side and Tonga can also call on a bevy of well-known internationals.

The Pacific rivals line up for a test in Penrith today as they get their World Cup preparations into gear.

The Samoa team has a familiar look to it with former Kiwis captain Roy Asotasi playing alongside the likes of Jeff Lima, Junior Sa'u, Kalifa Faifai Loa, Antonio Winterstein, Eddy Pettybourne and Ben Roberts.

Manly centre Steve Matai, who has played 12 tests for the Kiwis, has also declared his intention to play for Samoa but will miss the Tonga match because he's yet to formally register his switch with the Rugby League International Federation.

Tonga are also littered with some well-known names, including former Australian prop Brent Kite, Sika Manu, Jason Taumalolo, Anthony Tupou and Fuifui Moimoi.

Both countries have gone on recruiting drives ahead of the World Cup with good success, although Samoa missed out on Sonny Bill Williams who has committed to the Kiwis.

"Finalising my squad for this weekend's test was a lot more difficult than it was two years ago, which is testament to the growth of the game in the Pacific," Samoa coach Steve Price said. "The talent pool we have available now as well as the quality players that have chosen to represent Samoa is increasing each year. To be able to assemble this team in the lead up to the World Cup is fantastic for the game."

League's eligibility rules allow players to switch allegiance in a relatively short space of time, which is done to try to ensure the World Cup is as competitive as possible.

Both Australia and New Zealand are comfortable with the practice because they still believe they get first pick of the best players. Under international rules, a player has to wait two years or until the end of the next World Cup before they can elect to play for another country.

Neither Tonga nor Samoa were factors at the last World Cup in 2008.

The Kiwis will open their World Cup defence against Samoa in Warrington before rounding out their pool games against France and Papua New Guinea.

- APNZ

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