19 Apr 2013

Sport: Samoa and Tonga ready to resume rugby league rivalry

3:23 pm on 19 April 2013

Samoa and Tonga will resume their rugby league rivalry this weekend in a test match that's been dubbed as 'a long time coming'.

Both countries have enlisted some high profile NRL stars for a match that comes six months before the start of the Rugby League World Cup.

Vinnie Wylie spoke with both camps.

It's been two and a half years since Samoa last played a rugby league test against Tonga.

In fact it's been two and a half years since Samoa have played a test match.

The Toa prevailed 22-6 on that day at Parramatta Stadium but in the intervening period, an end of year tour has been cancelled and the only matchplay has been between a local residents team and amateur sides from New Zealand and New South Wales Country.

So you can understand why Toa Samoa's Technical Director Nigel Vagana says this Saturday's Pacific clash is a significant milestone.

"We don't get these opportunities very often and when the commission came in and put their weight behind growing the international game, and starting with our own backyard, it's great to see it come to fruition so early and great to get an opportunity to showcase the talent of the Pacific on the world stage."

Both countries have called in some big-name recruits for the one-off match...

Former Kiwis internationals Junior Sa'u, Kalifa Fai Fai Loa, Roy Asotasi and Jeff Lima are all poised to make their Toa Samoa debut.

Nigel Vagana says it's special to see players connecting with their Pacific heritage.

For a lot of these guys, you know they've never put on the blue jersey of Samoa before so for these guys it will be an emotional event for them. And I think the calibre of athletes that we have and just what they do day in day out at the NRL we're going to see a pretty good game of rugby league as well. So it's great to sell all the elements come in: from a cultural, from a professional, from a fan engaging, all coming together.

The Tongan camp has also recruited well with ex Kiwis Sika Manu and Fuifui Moimoi joining former Australia internationals Brent Kite and Anthony Tupou in the Mate Ma'a line-up.

Moimoi and Kite played for the Kingdom earlier in their careers and head coach Charles Tonga says it's a great to have them back.

Just their presence and the experience they bring to the side mate I think is a big help as well. We've also got some young guys as well so it's a big bonus for us. It's also good as well coming to the end of their careers, that was one of the things they assured me: they didn't want to come back when they were old and couldn't play any more but they're still playing in their prime at the moment. They're very proud of their heritage mate and to give back to our nation mate that's what it's all about.

It's been 13 years since a teenage Brent Kite pulled on the Tongan jersey at the 2000 World Cup.

The now 32 year old says the team has come a long way since then and is determined to put in a strong showing on Saturday.

We had a handful of first graders last time around and now we look at the team and pretty much everyone is playing first grade or one two Toyota Cup, which is a good level of footy, so that would be the main one. Charlie Tonga's done a great job in pulling the great stars together. It's a very professional outfit and it had to be that way to get NRL clubs to release the guys so hopefully we can translate that into a good game.

And for those not able to be at the ground, the test will screen live on TV in both Samoa and Tonga, as well as New Zealand, Australia, Fiji and Solomon Islands.