Roberts backs Samoan big men
They were two of the most influential front-rowers in the NRL in 2014 but Toa Samoa five-eighth Ben Roberts believes his team has the firepower to match the likes of James Graham and George Burgess when they face England on Saturday evening.
Samoa's task of upsetting the Englishmen has been made slightly more difficult with Reni Maitua, Tautau Moga and Sauaso Sue all made unavailable for selection while the NRL Integrity Unit assists police with investigations into an alleged incident in Brisbane on Saturday night.
But with a forward pack that features Sam Tagataese, David Fa'alogo, Frank Pritchard and Josh McGuire in the starting side and giants such as Mose Masoe and Jesse Sene-Lefao waiting on the bench, Roberts has complete belief that they can match whatever England throws at them through the middle.
"I think we've got a lot of size up front too but also out the backline we've got some size as well," Roberts said, pointing to the likes of Daniel Vidot and Joey Leilua.
"We're expecting them to be a big side, obviously having the Burgess brothers there and James Graham to lead the way so we're looking forward to the challenge.
"We'll expect [Mose] to lead, which I'm sure he will. Obviously having a pretty successful campaign over there in England this year, winning the competition [with St Helens], so he's on a bit of a high and I think all the boys are feeding off that energy.
"[James Graham] would have to be one of the best front-rowers running around in my eyes; he'd have to be the benchmark. It's a good way for our guys up front to measure how well they're going. If we can keep him limited as well as the other Burgess boys I think we're doing a good job.
"I don't think anyone's really giving us much credit or expecting us to do well which doesn't really faze us. We as a team know how well we can play, it's just a matter of us going out there and doing it together."
The inclusion of McGuire a week after representing the Prime Minister's XIII in Papua New Guinea may be confusing to some but represents a tremendous boost to Samoa's chances of causing an upset.
McGuire was widely considered unlucky not to have played State of Origin for Queensland this year and will be a key figure in keeping the Samoan middle tight in the midst of the beefy English onslaught, in particular the English skipper.
"He's a very talented, very skilled front-rower. He's very lucky he's got the skills to play before the line or through the line," McGuire said of Graham. "A lot of front-rowers are pretty straight up and down where he brings a whole other aspect to the game; he's like a halfback but in a front-rower's body really which is why he's so dangerous.
"He's the NRL prop of the year and he's a key member in their structural play. I think a lot of their play will come off him and what he does and I think they'll base a lot of their footy around him this Four Nations.
"Every game that I've played against James he's been a standout player and we've got to be on full alert when we play against England.
"They've got a tremendous side that are full of NRL experience too. I think they've probably got their strongest squad that they've had in a long time so we're very excited but very aware of how good they are."
The Samoan team spent close to a week back in Samoa preparing for the Four Nations tournament where Roberts worked closely with Kyle Stanley to strike up a combination in the halves.
Although Stanley has played the majority of his NRL career in the centres, Roberts says that as long as they work well together they can work off the back of the good work done by the forwards.
"He's a bright young talent that's been unfortunate with a few injuries coming his way in the start of his career but he's done really well this week," Roberts said.
"He's come into camp and is getting along well with the boys and I think the most important thing is that as long as we've got an understanding and working well together we'll get the team around the park pretty good."