Samoa coach calls for end to pay disparity
Samoa coach Matt Parish has challenged the Rugby League International Federation to compensate teams playing in the World Cup equally so that the so-called second tier nations can break the stranglehold held by the traditional super powers.
Australia, England and New Zealand have all qualified for the semi-finals in every World Cup that they have contested but as the 14 captains and coaches gathered in Brisbane on Sunday there was a growing confidence amongst many nations that such dominance could end this year.
The likes of Samoa, Tonga, Papua New Guinea, Italy and Fiji all genuinely believe they can put together a World Cup campaign that reaches the semi-finals at the very least, with Tonga's hopes bolstered by the high-profile inclusions of Jason Taumalolo and Andrew Fifita.
After being knocked out in the quarter-final stage in England four years ago by Fiji, Samoa has continued to improve, almost causing major upsets in the 2014 Four Nations tournament when they pushed both England and New Zealand until the 80th minute.
Preparing to open their campaign against New Zealand in Auckland on Saturday, Samoa also shares Pool B with Tonga and Scotland with three teams each from Pool A and Pool B to advance to the quarter-final stage.
Players from the Kangaroos will receive as much as $50,000 for their participation in the tournament whereas those representing Italy will receive nothing, and Parish is adamant that in order for the next World Cup to be even more evenly contested the financial rewards need to be equal.
"Pay us what Australia and New Zealand are getting," Parish said when asked how to enhance the prospects of the second tier nations.
"It should be a level playing field. I've been an advocate for this for a long time but I can't see why when you put on an Australia jumper or Samoa, Tonga or Fiji or whoever why you don't get the same. I don't understand why.
"Where did the profits go from the last World Cup? I can tell you that they didn't go to any of the Pacific nations.
"The thing that gets me about second tier nations is that if we were all paid the same we're all first tier nations.
"It's tough. We've got one physio and that sort of stuff but we make do with what we've got.
"Playing for Samoa isn't about money, it's about playing for your heritage, about playing for your family."
Pleased with an international calendar over the next four years that will provide increasing opportunities for Pacific nations in particular to play more regular Test football, Parish said that playing more games will inherently strengthen those teams.
The bigger picture
Samoa captain Frank Pritchard, who played 27 Tests for New Zealand between 2005 and 2013 agrees, saying that players such as Taumalolo and Fifita shouldn't have to sacrifice opportunities to play representative football by choosing to play for Tonga.
"Given the fact that the boys have chosen to play for Tonga is awesome and we need to embrace that as an international league, especially the tier two nations," Pritchard told NRL.com.
"You have to look at the bigger picture. If there's just the one-off Pacific Test during the year and then there's no Four Nations or World Cup at the end of the year then we lose out.
"Definitely those blokes have to look at that long term because obviously they've made a commitment to play for Tonga and that's where Tonga Rugby League and the NRL need to look at getting them more games.
"We can't just have this [World Cup] and then one Test in May and that's it."
With the changes to the eligibility rules the quality of the 2017 World Cup promises to surpass any of those that have come before it in terms of depth, but with the tournament to be hosted in North America in eight years' time, Parish says the game's officials must build on the momentum that has been generated to make a lasting impression.
"From the last World Cup, the Pacific Nations in particular have got stronger but we've also got Italy and Lebanon with 'Freddy' (Lebanon coach Brad Fittler) and Robbie [Farah] putting their hands up to do a job there," said Parish.
"To have the calibre of those sort of people playing in the so called second tier nations is fantastic.
"What it has shown is that the gap between the top three nations and the rest of us has definitely closed.
"Common sense has prevailed, the eligibility rules have changed which has been a long time coming but it just shows what these teams are capable of.
"We played in the Four Nations in 2014 and we showed that we can compete then.
"We've been lucky enough to go from strength to strength and that shows that Pacific nations need more games and they need more top quality games.
"The strength in all the teams is really good and while Australia have got a great team obviously led by Mal [Meninga] and Cameron [Smith], they need to play well to beat us.
"People turning up to watch this World Cup, they will see what the Pacific nations can do."