By Jonty Dine of RNZ
South Auckland’s streets are set for a Samoan invasion this Saturday.
Toa Samoa will play their first Rugby League World Cup final against the Kangaroos of Australia in the early hours of Sunday.
As the historic kick-off approaches the passion on the streets is palpable, with Pacific pride on full display in Auckland.
“Samoa is taking over Auckland right now,” Afa Molele said.
Teleiai Edwin Puni said all Samoans would be out on the streets celebrating the occasion.
“It’s a good time to celebrate. It’s been difficult in the past couple of years. We had measles, Covid, an election that divided the country, now everyone is coming together.”
Esther Tofilau said the side had proven on a world stage that a small island from the Pacific could make a huge impact.
“Rain or shine we are going to be out here celebrating, partying, and making history with everyone around the world. Cheehoo!”
Toa’s stunning performance has inspired Samoans of all ages around the globe.
“Just seeing all our people out having fun, women, children, all ages just chilling and having fun. You can’t ask for more than that,” Toala Tusani said.
After being crushed by hosts England in the opening round, Toa made a turnaround to post a stunning 27-26 win in last week’s semifinal.
“That first game when we got that drubbing, it was hard to even think again about the second, but it’s been amazing,” Tusani said.
Samoans in New Zealand say it has been an emotional journey.
“We have just been very proud ... you’re making me tear up ... they have just put us on the map,” Loretta Ai’i said.
The city is cloaked in Samoan flags which have been flying out the door of Mangere variety stores.
“Completely sold out of flags, all gone, very fast,” one store spokesperson said.
An Ōtāhuhu retailer has lost count of how many flags she has sold and is now down to her last dozen.
“Some people take five, some take two, some take one, many many customers. I don’t know how many today.”
Even All Black legend Sir Michael Jones has been swept up in league fever.
“I feel sorry for anyone living near the Māngere Town Centre who isn’t Samoan,’' he said.
The Samoan-Kiwi said what Toa were doing was special for all Pacific sport.
“Seeing the underdogs do great things and turning a sporting game upside down, which makes it so exciting, so for the Samoan community it doesn’t get any bigger.”
He said the team had inspired a generation.
“Our success is magnified, and it means that much more because we need heroes, so we now have a new generation who aspire to be the next Junior Paulo or Stephen Crichton.”
Jones said sport reached deep into the essence of the Samoan people.
“We see it in the way they celebrate - it’s beautiful.”
He said while the Pacific island nation had always punched above its weight, a win on Sunday would be the biggest achievement in Samoan sporting history.
“I don’t think anything would compare to beating the Australians at Old Trafford in a World Cup final.”
Jones said Samoans were a proud people with a proud sporting history of slaying giants.
“It’s a David and Goliath thing and we love that kind of narrative. The Samoans have shown the spirit of Toa can do what some people might think is unbelievable.”
“Oh we’re going to win, Samoa is going to win,” John Fiu said.
“Go the Toa, all day every day.”
“We’re going to party on till next year baby!” Tusani said.
“We are having fun, we are going to do this well and stay cool, that’s all stay cool.”
“It’s showtime, Toa Samoa!” Puni said.
It will be either a very late night or an early rise for fans with kick-off set for 5am on Sunday.