In today’s edition of ‘Starting XVII’, we focus on Samoa.
Despite constantly turning out top quality squads full of experience and flair, the Samoans have never gone further than the knockout stage.
But could that in change in 2021? Here’s the players we think could take them there…
Fullback – Anthony Milford
Admittedly he’s usually a half, but Milford started his NRL career as a fullback and still poses a huge threat there. He’s a superb runner of the ball and brings an unpredictability to the Samoan side chiming into the attacking line.
Wingers – Jorge Taufua and Brian To’o
Despite being brilliant finishers, Taufua and To’o are almost polar opposites when it comes to playing style. Taufua’s size and aggression means he often opts for the ‘go through’ approach, while his 21-year-old teammate has the youth and exuberance to try and go around players. Both are useful techniques and have seen the pair develop reputations as top quality wide-men in recent years.
Centres – Michael Chee-Kam and Joseph Leilua
This is an odd combination but one that could be effective. The Wests Tigers pair are both capable of producing moments of individual brilliance which can sometimes be match-winning. Versatile centre of back rower Chee-Kam has deceptive pace and great late footwork, while Leilua has explosive power and an excellent offload.
Halves – Jarome Luai and Chanel Harris-Tavita
This is a halves combination full of excitement. Both still in their early 20’s, Luai and Harris-Tavita have emerged as two of the NRL’s top prospects in the past two years and are now benefitting from the departures of James Maloney and Shaun Johnson from their respective Penrith and New Zealand clubs. They have natural talent and dangerous agility, with their only potential downfall being the ability to take complete control of a game.
Props – Junior Paulo and Martin Taupau
Experienced duo Paulo and Taupau form a formidable front row pairing capable of challenging anyone. Between them is 230kg of pure power, strength and leg drive and over 250 games-worth of experience. They are bound to lead from the front in what is otherwise a rather young pack.
Hooker – Jazz Tevega
Since his debut in 2016, the stocky 24-year-old has built a reputation as a super sub, winning the 2018 Dally M Award for Interchange Player of the Year. He has since become an effective starting option for the New Zealand Warriors at hooker and loose forward, with his mobility and attrition proving difficult to deal with for opponents.
Second Rowers – Bunty Afoa and Tino Fa’asuamaleaui
Two explosive forwards with huge futures ahead of them. Afoa and Fa’asuamaleaui have made huge names for themselves in the past couple of years, stringing together several impressive performances for New Zealand and Melbourne respectively. The latter has even earned a $2 million move to Gold Coast for 2021. They’re both very mobile and have the ability to beat defenders.
Loose Forward – Sonny Bill Williams
He’s yet to commit to any cause and has even said it would be ‘ridiculous’ to start thinking about international rugby just yet, but by the time the World Cup comes around there’s a decent chance Williams could be involved. Samoa coach Matt Parish has said he would be keen for the 34-year-old to choose Samoa, as he holds a Samoan passport. He’d likely have much more of an influence and affect than he would playing for New Zealand and could pass on his experience to the younger members of the back row.
Subs – Danny Levi, Herman Ese’ese, Josh Aloiai and Luciano Leilua
Samoa often go for a big but mobile bench and this one is no different. Ese’ese, Aloiai and Leilua can all play in both the front and back rows but each bring different assets to the table. Ese’ese and Aloiai have brute size and strength to power through defences, while Leilua can take on the line and find an offload. Former New Zealand international Danny Levi is also an option to rotate at hooker.