Tonga envious of Samoan surge
They gave them an unexpected touch-up in the corresponding Pacific Test two years ago and Tonga coach Kristian Woolf admits his team were envious watching Samoa perform so admirably in last year's Four Nations tournament.
While Samoa were pushing England and New Zealand to the brink of monumental upsets, Woolf put together a youthful Tongan team to play Papua New Guinea in front of just a few fanatical locals in PNG, the Kumuls coming away with a 38-12 win.
Despite defeating the Cook Islands and Italy at the 2013 Rugby League World Cup, Tonga has not played an officially sanctioned Test match since and watching their Samoan counterparts match it with the world's best last year proved to be a proud yet frustrating experience.
Due to their lack of playing opportunities, Tonga is currently ranked 16th in the world – behind the likes of Russia, Serbia and Italy – and Woolf said his players are determined to prove their worth again in Saturday's Pacific Test against Samoa at Cbus Super Stadium.
"I was speaking to the players and that was the case right across the board. We were very proud to see Samoa go very well, but we also sat there with a little bit of envy thinking we could one day be in a very similar position with the talent coming through in the NRL at the moment," Woolf said of watching Samoa's efforts in the Four nations.
"I was lucky enough to be involved in the 2013 Test and that was certainly one of the most passionate crowds I've ever seen at any level of football. It was so passionate that people ran from everywhere to get on the field at the end of the game and the game couldn't be finished.
"It was outstanding and I hope people make the same effort to come and watch the game [on Saturday] night."
Despite coming within a converted try of knocking over both England and New Zealand in the Four Nations and having accounted for Fiji 32-16 in last year's Pacific Test, Samoa's international schedule for the remainder of the year remains unclear.
As coach Matt Parish called for more regular fixtures for his team, captain Frank Pritchard said Samoa's displays against the rugby league powerhouse nations gave the players a greater sense for wanting to represent their heritage.
"Although we didn't win a game, we definitely went away with our head high," Pritchard said of their Four nations campaign.
"Just being in a tournament like that gives our nation hope and gives a lot of boys a chance to show what they've got and potentially get a contract in the NRL. Having more fixtures throughout the year will be great for Samoa.
"Making the game grow and having a lot of players turn out for their country would be good. The majority of the New Zealand team are Samoan and Tongan; if they could play for us it would just make the game grow even more."
With the Fiji and Papua New Guinea national teams to play a Test prior to Tonga's clash with Samoa, Samoa coach Matt Parish said that is the Pacific nations, with the right support, who can most threaten the international stranglehold of Australia, New Zealand and England.
"For our nations to develop, we need to play regular, whether it's one a year or twice a year, competition against leading nations and I include Fiji and PNG in that too," Parish said.
"I can't see Italy or France or anyone like that competing against the other three nations but I can certainly see the Pacific islands definitely competing.
"The Four Nations is over but it showed with the right preparation and players the Pacific nations can compete."