Mata'utias choose family over country
NSW Cup Representative players Pete and Chanel Mata'utia each had a shot at representing the country of their heritage, Samoa, in the Pacific Test this weekend but instead chose to take the guarantee of playing a rare game alongside each other in the interstate residents game.
Dragons winger Pete Mata'utia, 24, is the older brother of Newcastle trio Chanel (22), Pat (21) and Sione (18). All were born in NSW but qualify for Samoa via their Samoan parents.
Both Peter – who has played two Tests for Samoa previously – and Chanel were selected in the NSW Cup Representative Team to face Queensland Residents in Brisbane on Sunday.
Peter told NRL.com that in the face of a chance to play a third Test for Samoa he chose his state because it meant a rare opportunity to line up alongside his brother since he left the Knights at the end of 2012 to join the Dragons.
"He's probably the reason why I chose this team instead of Samoa, to play with Chanel – it was a tough decision to make. I wasn't sure if I was going to make Samoa or not and I had my brother playing," he said.
Uncertainty over Samoan team selections also played their part.
"For me it wasn't about playing Origin, it was just about playing with Chanel, and whether or not I would have made Samoa. I didn't know if I was going to make Samoa and they didn't name their team until real late.
"If I didn't play in this team and then didn't make Samoa I would have missed out on a game altogether so I had to take the one that I knew I was going to be in and I wouldn't have it any way else."
Chanel, who is yet to play for the country of his heritage despite having been selected to the initial Four Nations train-on squad last year, made the same decision despite being sounded out for a spot on the wing for Toa Samoa.
"We played alongside each other in NSW Cup a few years ago for the Knights and I kind of miss it," Chanel said.
"This is a good to get the opportunity now to play with him, especially representing our state.
"I actually did the same thing as Pete, Pete told me he turned down a spot just to play alongside me in this team. I actually got a call up after they called me for NSW Residents. If Pete wanted to play with me and turn down his spot [for Samoa], obviously I wanted to do the same to play alongside him as well."
A call from a Newcastle teammate in the Samoa squad indicated he was on the radar.
"I did [get approached] – I was told through the boys, [Newcastle centre] BJ Leilua called me up and said coach [Matt Parish] asked if I wanted to jump on the wing, so there was a 90 per cent chance I'd be playing, but I turned it down to play alongside my brother."
With so many representative games over the weekend, the Mata'utias are eligible for as many as four different teams: NSW Cup Representative, Samoa, City Origin and Australia.
Being forced to choose was tough.
"It was [a big decision], I actually called up my mum and my older sisters and they just said do what you believe in, where your heart goes. And I thought my decision is to play for NSW," Chanel said.
"It kind of sucks [the games are on the same weekend] – I've always wanted to play for Samoa. Both representative teams this week, it was hard for me to choose but at the end of the day I had to make a choice and stayed with the Residents."
Their younger brother Pat will in fact line up for Samoa, will their youngest brother Sione – perhaps ironically, as the youngest-ever Kangaroo – won't play at all over the rep weekend despite also being eligible for the Junior Kangaroos.
The eldest Mata'utia said he'd like to see Australian-born players of Polynesian descent not be forced to choose between their home state and their heritage.
"I think if you were born in the state you should be right to play," Peter said.
"That's how it should be in Origin anyway. If you were born in NSW it shouldn't matter where you play your first game that's who you should play for. For Polynesian guys who were born in Australia and have a Polynesian background, they deserve to have that option.
"I think everyone knows where they're born and where they come from. As long as you know and it's legit then you deserve it."
Despite the agonising selection decisions, Peter believes the match was a great opportunity for both himself – after having appeared in the same fixture in 2013 – and Chanel, who is playing his second straight year in the NSW Cup rep team.
"I am pumped, it's a great opportunity for me and a reward for how I've been playing lately," the Dragons winger said.
"Not only to represent my state but also represent my club and I'm looking forward to it."
Chanel added that after going home disappointed a year earlier he was confident of reversing the result this year.
"I'm expecting it to kind of be the same as last year. We came up here and it was a tough game, I think it was a bit wet too, we didn't get the win last year but I'm confident that we're prepared to take the 'W' home with us this game," he said.
"We've got a few experienced players like Gards [Cronulla fullback Nathan Gardner] and my older brother. We've got leadership in the group and we're all feeling confident."
Chanel hopes the chance to feature in another rep game would stand him in good stead for his future NRL career.
"It's always good to get the opportunity to represent your state, I think that helped me last year to get my debut [alongside brother Sione in Round 20 for Newcastle], I got a lot of confidence out of the game, it helped me a lot.
"We've got a lot of depth in the backs [at Newcastle], for me I've just got to stay patient and work as hard as them and hopefully one day I can show the coach what I've got and there will be a spot for me."