Pressure is on Australia: Paulo
Joseph Paulo will be in a unique position when he lines up for Samoa against Australia in Darwin on Friday night for what will be consecutive World Cup quarter-finals against the Kangaroos for the versatile Cronulla Shark.
At the 2013 World Cup Paulo captained the US Tomahawks with distinction to a surprise quarter-final berth against the Kangaroos.
It is Paulo’s family history which has enabled him to represent both nations.
His mother Jane was born in American Samoa, a territory of the United States, while his father Aukuso hails from the island of Upolu in Samoa.
Paulo first competed for Samoa at the World Cup in 2008, alongside current squad member Ben Roberts.
Paulo honoured his mother’s heritage at the last World Cup and rode the wave with the Tomahawks to the knockout stage, but a journey of self-discovery to Samoa prior to this World Cup confirmed he had made the right decision to return to Toa Samoa.
“The US has changed a lot since I was there, now that the people that were running it like (former American National Rugby League president) David Niu aren’t on board,” Paulo said.
“I just felt like I wanted to come back to Samoa and give myself a shot, even though I knew that depth in the squad was going to be better. I really wanted to give back to Samoa.
“We had a camp in Samoa before the World Cup and it was good to go back to my granddad’s old village of Faleapuna, to see where he grew up and where my father grew up.
“It was really cool to trace back those steps and understand how far they have come to give me this opportunity, not only to play rugby league but to live in Australia.
“I went for a drive around the island (of Upolu) and stopped in at the village and tried to navigate what it would have been like for them back in the day.
“It was really special and you see how simple life is. You look at the kids and none of them have phones. They are just running around and it is those simple things that bring joy to their lives.”
The Samoan side, boasting Josh Papalii and Junior Paulo up front and Joey Leilua out wide, is yet to fire at this World Cup. Although losses to Tonga and New Zealand were no disgrace, the team was well below its best in a 14-14 draw with Scotland.
“It is hard to put a finger on it because we’ve put in the hard work,” Paulo said.
“We had an awesome camp in Samoa where we pretty much trained every day and we have trained our backsides off since, but we haven’t played the footy we know we are capable of.
“That is reflected in our games and we get frustrated, because we know how good we can be.
“But it only takes one game to produce and hopefully that can be this week.
“All of the pressure is on Australia, so if we can keep up with them early and play some good footy then maybe we can upset them.”
Paulo spent the first two days of this week in his Darwin hotel room with a fever and icing his eye after a head clash against Scotland, but would be “sweet” to play against the Kangaroos off the interchange bench.
He’s just hoping this quarter-final starts better for Samoa than it did for the United States in 2013 against Australia, which the Tomahawks lost 62-0.
“We knew it wasn’t going to be our day when Australia kicked off, it hit the posts and they regathered the ball,” Paulo grinned.
“It was like ‘come on’. It was always going to be a long afternoon.”