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Panthers everywhere, Suaalii at fullback and biggest pack possible




There probably won’t be a squad announcement as hotly anticipated as when Samoa release their team.

If the 2017 World Cup was defined by the emergence of Tonga onto the world stage as a genuine fourth contender for the title, then there’s a strong argument to be made that this year will be the coming out party for their eternal rivals.

A lot of that has to do with the Samoan surge that has turned the Penrith Panthers into the best team in the NRL: the backline that Ivan Cleary picks on a weekly basis is highly likely to be available to Toa Samoa coach Matt Parish.

They’ve even got Panthers assistant and future NZ Warriors head coach Andrew Webster on the backroom staff, as well as all the inside knowledge they could want on their group stage opponents in Richard Agar, with a wealth of Super League head coaching experience and a stint as France boss too. All they need is a Greek, though one suspects that Samoa won’t be worrying too much about the debutants.

Instead, they’ve got their sights firmly set on Newcastle and the hosts. Win the tournament opener over England and it will be the biggest of big statements. Lose, and it’s a win for the neutrals: sure, we like the underdogs story – though are Samoa even underdogs? – but we’d prefer a likely clash with Tonga in the quarters.

That would stop the rugby league world.

Certainties

This is a huge list for Samoa. Pretty much their entire 17 from the Pacific Test win over the Cook Islands are in, and it’s a lot of big names.

Let’s get the Panther contingent out of the way: Brian To’o, Stephen Crichton, Taylan May, Izack Tago, Jarome Luai are going to be numbers 2-6 on the teamsheet to face England, injuries permitting.

CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA - MAY 29: Junior Paulo of the Eels in action during the round 12 NRL match between the Canberra Raiders and the Parramatta Eels at GIO Stadium, on May 29, 2022, in Canberra, Australia. (Photo by Mark Nolan/Getty Images)

(Photo by Mark Nolan/Getty Images)

In the forwards, you can add Marty Taupau and Josh Aloiai from Manly, Francis Molo and Jaydn Su’A from the Dragons and Raymond Faitala-Mariner, who might be shifted to lock.

Josh Papali’i has declared for Samoa and Junior Paulo is expected to do so very soon too. From the Wests Tigers, Fa’amanu Brown is their bench 14 and hooker rotation option and Kelma Tuilagi should make the squad, though where and when he plays is as yet undecided.

The halfback options will include Anthony Milford and Mason Lino, who has been very impressive in Super League at Wakefield. One of those two will wear the No.7 jersey, the other will be back up.

PENRITH, AUSTRALIA - JULY 01: Joseph Suaalii of the Roosters runs the ball during the round 16 NRL match between the Penrith Panthers and the Sydney Roosters at BlueBet Stadium on July 01, 2022 in Penrith, Australia. (Photo by Jason McCawley/Getty Images)

Joseph Suaalii. (Photo by Jason McCawley/Getty Images)

Probables 

There’s a long list of players who are outside chances for the Kangaroos and would certainly be picked for Samoa if not chosen for Australia.

Joseph Suaalii could get a long-awaited crack at the fullback role – or as a centre with Crichton shifted to the No.1 jersey – while Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow and Murray Taulagi are possibles but not probables for Mal Meninga and will likely turn out for Samoa.

Sharks duo Braden Hamlin-Uele and Royce Hunt are available and, given their strong club form, would be front-runners to go as forward depth.

Jarome Luai of the Panthers celebrates with Soni Luke

(Photo by Matt Blyth/Getty Images)

Possibles

Samoa would love for Australia to hurry up and name a squad. Jeremiah Nanai and Tino Fa’asuamaleaui will likely choose green and gold.

David Nofoaluma scored four against the Kukis, but that was without To’o and Murray Taulagi available. A lot will depend on how his Melbourne Storm loan spell goes. Jaxson Paulo could also be drafted in as a utility back. Chanel Harris-Tevita will go if injury permits, though that looks unlikely at this stage after his MCL tear.

Other outside chances include Tof Sipley and Keenan Palasia, though the front row competition is insane. Francis Molo and Bunty Afoa played midseason but are probably going to be squeezed out, as will Spencer Leniu.

Erin Clark is a hooker option alongside Brown given the absence of Jazz Tevaga (shoulder) and could cover their problem area at lock. Josh Schuster is likely to opt against playing to prepare for next year, though he could also shift to lock if he chose to play.

NEWCASTLE, AUSTRALIA - JUNE 12: Stephen Crichton of the Panthers is tackled during the round 14 NRL match between the Newcastle Knights and the Penrith Panthers at McDonald Jones Stadium, on June 12, 2022, in Newcastle, Australia. (Photo by Ashley Feder/Getty Images)

Stephen Crichton. (Photo by Ashley Feder/Getty Images)

Predicted Samoa squad

1 Joseph Suaalii
2 Brian To’o
3 Stephen Crichton
4 Izack Tago
5 Taylan May
6 Jarome Luai
7 Anthony Milford
8 Josh Aloiai
9 Erin Clark
10 Josh Papalii
11 Kelma Tuilagi
12 Jaydn Su’A
13 Raymond Faitala-Mariner
14 Fa’amanu Brown
15 Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow
16 Junior Paulo
17 Marty Taupau
18 Chanel Harris-Tevita
19 Murray Taulagi
20 Mason Lino
21 Charlie Staines
22 David Nofoaluma
23 Braden Hamlin-Uele
24 Royce Hunt





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