New-look Samoa up to task
Veteran forward David Fa'alogo has backed in-form new blood to reverse Samoa's loss to Fiji in last year's World Cup quarter-finals and win their way through to an historic appearance in the Four Nations tournament at the end of the year.
Despite having a wealth of NRL experience to call upon, Toa Samoa were shock losers to Tonga in last year's Pacific Test and were subsequently bundled out of the World Cup by Fiji after recording strong wins over Papua New Guinea and France and pushing New Zealand all the way in the Group stages.
They get the opportunity to exact some revenge for that defeat at Sportingbet Stadium in Penrith on Saturday night but they will do so with a vastly different looking squad.
Just seven members of this week's squad – Fa'alogo, Daniel Vidot, Suaia Matagi, Penani Manumaleali'i, Leeson Ah Mau, Michael Sio and Reni Maitua – participated in the World Cup but the new faces have been in terrific form for their respective NRL teams.
Ricky Leutele, Dunamis Lui, Young Tonumaipea and Isaac Liu have delivered eye-catching performances in recent weeks and Fa'alogo is hopeful that their enthusiasm at training will transfer to a strong showing against Fiji.
"It was always going to be the case because we had players in the UK that are unable to make this Test match so we've had to get a few players from the local region and just go with that," Fa'alogo said of the new-look squad. "I think they're capable of doing the job for us.
"At training they are obviously training well so I think we'll take a bit of that enthusiasm and energy and convert it into excitement for this weekend.
"It's a whole new campaign and Test match and we're looking forward to the challenge and we'd like to come away with the win.
"I'm quite happy and confident that the players we've got can do the job."
Although Samoa will be missing the spark of fullback Anthony Milford – who will play for the Queensland Under-20s in the curtain-raiser to the Pacific Test – the lure of a Four Nations appearance remains a strong motivator.
Fa'alogo and centre Krisnan Inu were both members of the New Zealand team that was triumphant in the 2008 Four Nations tournament and the 33-year-old off-contract Knights forward said a Samoan appearance would provide the game with a significant boost.
"I think it will be huge," Fa'alogo said. "A lot of Samoan players have never played in the Four Nations before. I've been fortunate to play in it for the Kiwis so it will be very exciting times if we win this weekend. But we've got a bit of work to do first in order to get our game-plan right for this game.
"We lost the [World Cup quarter-final] and we were pretty down and disappointed but when we found out that we'd play a Test Match this April that enables whoever wins to get to the Four Nations, that was exciting as well because we get a second chance to play against Fiji again."
The Samoan forward pack is a formidable one with Fa'alogo to be joined in the front row by Sharks tearaway Sam Tagataese, who played against Tonga in last year's Pacific Test but missed the World Cup through injury.
Leeson Ah Mau has started in six of the seven games he has played for the Dragons this year and there is plenty of muscle on the bench, with Sea Eagles pair Dunamis Lui, Jesse Sene-Lefao, Suaia Matagi from the Warriors and Parramatta powerhouse Junior Paulo, who will be eager to impress having spent the majority of the season to date playing for Wentworthville in the NSW Cup.