The Samoa v Tonga test match at Centrebet Stadium on Saturday night is the equivalent of the re-birth of State of Origin according to former Samoan captain Nigel Vagana.
The two Pacific Nations will clash for the first time since 2010 and Vagana, who captained Samoa in the 2008 World Cup, believes the clash is similar to when State of Origin was re-launched in 1980.
Vagana scored 140 tries in 240 NRL games and also represented New Zealand, but rates captaining Samoa in the 2008 World Cup against Tonga as one of the highlights of his illustrious career.
“There is no game bigger for passion and pride than when Samoa take on Tonga,” Vagana told NRL.com.
“As everyone saw at the last World Cup, when you release a lot of the top players and give them an opportunity to play, the spectacle that is put on is pretty special.
“You could say it is our Pacific State of Origin, it is massive. Just thinking about the rivalry gives me chills.
“It is something that is engrained in every Samoan or Tongan, across the globe. We have a really rich history, a fierce history, but it is also a history of respect. We went to war against each other many years ago, the warrior mentality that our ancestors have on the Islands, everyone understands the rivalry as you grow up.”
30 per cent of NRL players have Pacific heritage and Vagana who now works as the NRL’s Player Welfare and Educations Program Manager has been actively working to strengthen the ties between this growing group of players and their communities.
With such a large Polynesian influence in Rugby League, the Test match is seen as vital for building the strength of the International game and giving players of Pacific heritage a choice to represent their country of origin.
“With the increasing numbers that we have in the NRL this game is extremely important,” Vagana said.
“It is extremely special to play against each other and for these guys to experience it for the first time, like Roy [Asotasi], like Jeff Lima, Antonio Winterstein – I’m pretty sure they will remember it for the rest of their career.
“Not only for the game in supporting cultural diversity, but also helping to grow the international game, as part of the strategy plan that the Commission put out over the next five years, you know the Kangaroos and Kiwis playing Friday, Samoa and Tonga playing Saturday, the Country v City, Under 20s Origin, it all fits in really well.”
International Rugby League has been criticized in recent years with a lack of opportunity for the minnow nations to grow. New Zealand, Australia and State of Origin are all seen as competitors to the Pacific Nations.
But this game represents a chance to change perception and make playing for Samoa or Tonga a much more viable and desirable goal.
“It is actually pretty special, as we struggle to get close to the financial rewards of playing for Australia or New Zealand,” Vagana continues.
“One thing the Pacific nations can offer is the chance to reconnect to their culture. As we have seen with the last few years, players are becoming much more aware of their culture, more proud and taking more ownership of their culture off the field.
“This gives them a chance to showcase it on the field.”
The Test match on Saturday will be broadcast live on Fox Sports, giving both Samoa and Tonga a platform to showcase not only their players and the game, but what it means to represent their respective nation.
With a World Cup at the end of the year in England, this match represents the start of a massive opportunity for the International game - one that both sides are keen to grow in the coming years.
“When you get guys like Sika Manu who is one of the form second rowers of the competition pledging his allegiance to Tonga, it is something special not just for him, but the team and the young players as well,” Vagana said.
“This is a fantastic opportunity for us this weekend, to be Live on Fox Sports around the country on the stand-alone weekend, in a double header with the under 20s Origin, we will be the only Rugby League game on television at 7:30pm on Saturday night.
“For us to get that exposure and for people who wouldn’t normally get a chance to watch these two teams play, and be able to witness it and the spectacle that is the rivalry – it is like the rebirth of Origin for us and for us to hopefully be able to put this on every year, it is fantastic for the Pacific Nations and we can’t thank the game enough for putting it on.
“I’m expecting a lot of passion, an opportunity for the wider community to see what it means to the players.”
The Samoa v Tonga match at Centrebet Stadium will headline a massive day of Rugby League on Saturday with four games being played including the Holden Under 20s State of Origin.
Tickets for the entire day are just $15 for adults, $5 for kids and $35 for a family. BUY TICKETS HERE
GAME DAY PROGRAM
12:30pm Gates Open
1:00pm Wentworthville Magpies v Windsor Wolves
3:10pm Mounties v North Sydney Bears
5.35pm Holden Under 20s State of Origin: New South Wales v Queensland
7.35pm Toa Samoa v Mate Ma'a Tonga
Samoa v Tonga head to head stats
Summary: Played 14; Samoa 7, Tonga 6, drawn 1
Samoa defeated Tonga 22-6 at Parramatta Stadium, October 24, 2010
Samoa defeated Tonga 20-12 at CUA Stadium, Penrith, October 31, 2008 (World Cup)
Tonga defeated Samoa 18-10 at Headingley, Leeds, October 22, 2006 (Federation Shield)
Tonga defeated Samoa 34-20 at Campbelltown Stadium, October 7, 2005
Samoa defeated Tonga 52-18 at North Harbour Stadium, October 23, 2004 (Pacific Cup final)
Tonga drew with Samoa 20-all at Nuku'alofa, Tonga, June 7, 1998
Tonga defeated Samoa 24-8 at Nuku'alofa, Tonga, June 30, 1998
Tonga defeated Samoa 24-22 at Palalaua School Grounds, Siumu, Samoa, July 4, 1998
Tonga defeated Western Samoa 22-17 at Nuku'alofa, Tonga, July 10, 1996 (Pacific Challenge)
Western Samoa defeated Tonga 18-14 at Carlaw Park, Auckland, October 31, 1992 (Pacific Cup final)
Western Samoa defeated Tonga 20-12 at Carlaw Park, Auckland, October 20, 1992 (Pacific Cup)
Western Samoa defeated Tonga 40-30 at Apia, Western Samoa, 1988 (Pacific Cup semi-final)
Western Samoa defeated Tonga 46-4 at Rarotonga, Cook Islands, 1986 (Pacific Cup)
Tonga defeated Western Samoa 34-16 at Rarotonga, Cook Islands, 1986 (Pacific Cup)