Samoa coach Matt Parish insists his team can push reigning World Cup champions New Zealand in their tournament opener in Warrington on Sunday providing they stick to their game plan and “play with their brains and not their brawn”.
Acknowledging their underdog status in the ‘local derby’ with the Kiwis, former Eels assistant coach Parish told NRL.com his players, who comprise a mixture of talented, untapped youth and hard-headed NRL experience, had bonded well in their short time in the UK.
“It’s good... it is coming together,” Parish said. “Obviously when you have that many new players coming together and we have got players from all different clubs, all different age groups, it takes a while to get things together but things have improved every session and things are coming together really well.
“I think the Kiwi team is the probably the best Kiwi team they have ever had, to be honest, and I think they will massively push the Australians all the way to the final of the World Cup.
“I have no doubt those two will fight out the final.
“But I am confident our guys can play well. For the New Zealand game we just need to go out there and play the best we can and perform to our ability. I think our big games are the ones after that – they will determine how deep we go in the tournament.”
Parish said the Samoan players were treating the clash with their South Pacific neighbours New Zealand at Halliwell Jones Stadium as very much a local derby.
“That’s why they are very keen to play well,” he said. “But we need to play smart, not tough, and not lose our heads because they [New Zealand] have probably the best forward pack in the competition.
“I don’t think we can go through them, so we need to play with our brain, not our brawn.”
That game plan will present exciting Canberra youngster Anthony Milford with the opportunity to shine on the world stage.
“Anthony has been great. He has enjoyed camp. He has been great for the NRL this year – he got the Mal Meninga medal for his club.
“I think this tournament is only going to make him a better player. I can see he loves to play with these boys because the Samoan culture and the family values that they hold mean a lot to him, as they do the rest of the boys.
“Until you get involved with it you don’t realise how much it means to them.”
Parish said the team would benefit enormously from the leadership of captain Harrison Hansen, who celebrates his 28th birthday the day before the clash with the Kiwis.
The rangy back-rower was born in New Zealand and represented the black and whites in 2006 but has played his entire professional career with Wigan in the UK Super league, helping to guide the club to the Challenge Cup and Super League titles in 2013.
“I have been really lucky – Harrison has been enormous for me, as has David Fa’alogo and Sia Soliola... again, boys who are very proud of their heritage but also very experienced campaigners.
“And big Mose Masoe is a very popular figure in the team. He’s a big man and I have no doubt he will be a real crowd pleaser for the St Helens faithful next season.
“As I have said got a really good mix here young guys and old guys and I am sure whatever we do this Sunday we will improve on.”