Roy Asotasi in action for Samoa in 2013.

Pacific players doing it for the fans

Former Bulldogs and Rabbitohs front rower Roy Asotasi has explained just how important the Pacific Test was to him as a player; his only regret being that it wasn't around earlier in his career. 

"When I was coming through the grades I always hoped there would be a Pacific Test which was solely focussed on Samoa and our biggest counterpart Tonga," Asotasi told NRL.com.

"At that time it was all about the Kiwis and Australia with very little attention paid to the smaller nations."

That was certainly the case for Asotasi, who played a number of Tests for New Zealand from 2004-09 before finally getting the chance to represent his beloved Samoa in 2013. 

"I think I played about 24 Tests for New Zealand and I only played one Test for Samoa, but that one game probably meant the most for me culturally," the NRL Ambassador said. 

"I knew I was honouring my surname, my parents and my family and that's what made it so special.  

"For me I had played for the Kiwis up to that stage, so I was very proud to play for Samoa that night and to captain them."

 


Asotasi said that while the game itself meant a great deal to the players, it was nothing compared to the impact it had on the fans. 

"I wouldn't be surprised if this place is packed on Saturday," he predicted. 

"This game means a lot to the players, but I reckon it's 10 times more special for the fans. 

"It brings the entire community together for that one night – regardless of what clubs they might support – and the fans can cheer for the players united under that one banner."

It's a view shared by current Samoan skipper Frank Pritchard who said the crowd support was one of the most memorable things from last year's clash. 

"That's what you take away from these games. You come Saturday and you'll see the fans cheering out of their skin. They wait for this game every year and it means so much to them," Pritchard said.  

"You're not just playing for yourself, you're playing for the pride of the country. We're a small nation so anything we can do to build our national brand will help. A lot of guys wear their hearts on their sleeve and show that emotion and that's great to see."

It's a feeling not limited to the Samoan side, with Gold Coast Titans flyer David Mead saying the honour of representing his people made it an easy decision to choose Papua New Guinea over playing for the Country Origin side. 

"I lived 12 years there, my family still lives there, so whenever I put this PNG jersey on it means a lot to me," Mead said. 

"They love any rugby league game that's played, from grassroots footy to the biggest stage. It will mean a lot to them to see their team run out on Saturday night and hopefully come out with a win."

Mead revealed a conversation with former Melbourne Storm and PNG star Marcus Bai was enough to convince him to return to international footy for the first time since 2013.

"Marcus Bai rang me a couple of weeks before the team was selected and he said that he would support whatever decision I made, but obviously they'd love to have me in the team," the 27-year-old said. 

"He wanted me to get in there and help the guys from PNG out so it was a pretty easy decision in the end because he's always someone I've looked up to."

The Titans winger said it was his responsibility as an NRL player to use his experience as a tool to motivate his teammates; especially the PNG Hunters players who have been doing a tremendous job in the Intrust Super Cup.  

"Anyone that plays NRL is going to have some form of influence over guys that play rugby league in the Pacific Nations," he said. 

"Having NRL players in the camp will help those guys – not just with their confidence – but to give them a bit of experience at the higher level."

One man who won't need any inspiration is former Queensland Cup Player of the Year, Luke Page. The one-man wrecking ball was limited to just one NRL game for the Dragons in 2015 and Mead said he had been careful to avoid his aggressive teammate at training this week. 

"It's good to have him around," the much smaller Mead said. 

"You can tell he's got a bit of PNG in him. We call him the 'White Kumul' because he runs hard and brings a lot of aggression to this side."