A coaching team of Sonny Bill Williams and the Johns brothers, Andrew and Matthew, could have a similar impact for Toa Samoa as Jason Taumalolo and Andrew Fifita’s decision to play for Tonga.
The move has received support from International Rugby League chairman Troy Grant and Samoa coach Matt Parish plans to reach out to the trio about becoming involved after being assured he would remain in charge for this year's World Cup.
With almost as many eligible players to draw on as Queensland, Samoa is considered the sleeping giant of the international game and the Johns brothers are keen to work with Williams to help the Pacific nation realise its potential.
The trio have discussed their desire to work together for Samoa and Spencer Leniu, who is among seven members of Penrith’s top-of-the-table squad with Samoan heritage, believes their involvement would be a draw card for players, possibly including Josh Papalii and Nelson Asofa-Solomona.
However, no formal approach on behalf of the Johns brothers and Williams has yet been made to Rugby League Samoa.
Parish has been the Samoa coach since 2013 and he has received assurances his position is not under threat after Matthew Johns revealed the ambitions of himself, brother Andrew and Williams on Sunday night.
98. Andrew Johns - Hall of Fame
Rugby League Samoa president Tagaloa Faafouina Su’a said on Tuesday night that Parish would now attempt to contact Williams and the Johns brothers in a bid to secure their involvement.
"To date we have had no contact with the Johns brothers nor SBW but I have spoken to Matt briefly this morning and he is happy that the Johns brothers and SBW have expressed an interest to help coach Samoa in the upcoming World Cup and is hopeful of reaching out to them in the next couple of days to secure their commitment," Su'a said.
Earlier, Rugby League Samoa issued a statement confirming that Parish would remain as coach until at least the end of his current contract, which expires after the World Cup.
"Matt has been our head coach since 2013 and has helped strengthen our game on and off the field," Su'a said.
"We are a proud nation with passionate rugby league fans and I have no doubt that the best years for Rugby League Samoa are ahead of us.
"We are praying for God’s divine healing on all of us and the pandemic to contain soon so everyone can focus on his/her role."
Williams has Samoan heritage through his father John and World Cup organisers had hoped before the dual-code superstar’s retirement earlier this year that he would play for Samoa in the opening match of the tournament against England at St James Park on October 23.
Andrew Johns is the game’s eighth Immortal, while Matthew was touted as a future NRL coach before creating a successful media career after a career that included 221 appearances for Newcastle, Wigan and Cronulla, four Origins for NSW and nine Tests for Australia.
Undoubtedly the high-profile trio would attract NRL players of Samoan heritage, who number about 85 this season, to commit to Toa Samoa in a similar way that other players followed Taumalolo and Andrew Fifita to Tonga before the 2017 World Cup.
“It is very exciting,” Grant said. “To have an Immortal in Andrew Johns, the recognised skill set and football brains of Matthew Johns, and someone with Sonny Bill’s reputation in Samoa is a wonderful trifecta.
“I watched Matthew and Andrew when they were in the lower grades at the Knights right through to their peak so I have seen them first hand, and Sonny Bill Williams is an internationally renowned athlete, as well.
“The SBW brand would bring enormous benefits to the international game in addition to the benefits of Samoa.”
Grant acknowledged Parish was the Samoa coach but said the involvement of Williams and the Johns brothers would potentially be a huge boost to Samoa and the code.
“I thought Matthew was very respectful towards the current coach and I think it will certainly be exciting a lot of people in Samoan rugby league, that’s for sure,” Grant said.
“Any additional involvement in international rugby league of the calibre of those three would obviously be welcomed, not just by the nation but for the whole game.”
Leniu ready to lead the charge
Samoa has competed at every World Cup since 1995 and qualified for the quarter-final stage in 2013 and 2017 but have not matched the feats of Tonga, who defeated New Zealand and suffered a controversial semi-final loss to England in 2017.
Despite having about 60 NRL players to choose from, Tonga managed to secure wins over Great Britain and Australia at the end of the 2019 season, while Samoa were beaten 44-18 by Fiji in their Oceania Cup clash at Eden Park.
Fiji has about 40 eligible NRL players, whereas Samoa has about 85, including Leniu and Penrith team-mates Jarome Luai, Stephen Crichton, Brian To’o, Moses Leota, Tyrone May and Charlie Staines, who NRL.com was told qualifies through his grandfather.
Other NRL stars include Papalii, Asofa-Solomona, Tino Fa'asuamaleaui, Dylan Brown, Junior Paulo, Iosia Soliola, Dunamis Lui, Martin Taupau, Josh Aloiai, Jaydn Su’a, Joey and Luciano Leilua, David Nofoaluma, Anthony Milford and Josh McGuire.
Under international eligibility rules, players can represent the country they, their parents or grandparents were born in and those who also qualify for NSW or Queensland can play State of Origin as Samoa is classified as a second-tier nation.
Leniu said he hoped to help Samoa win the World Cup at the end of the season and believes the involvement of Williams and Andrew and Matthew Johns would boost their prospects.
“They would attract more players to come through and hopefully some of the older boys like Josh Papalii and Nelson Asofa-Solomona to come and play,” Leniu said.
“The Tongan team has paved the way for us Samoans to aspire to do. All their players stayed true to their country and got the win against Australia. I think it would be pretty good to do something like that for our country.
“That’s a big goal for us, to win the World Cup for Samoa.”
Samoa deliver Siva Tau
Big dreams for Samoan rugby league
Williams, who represented New Zealand at Test level in rugby league and rugby union, has always had a strong affinity with Samoa through his heritage and used his profile to advance Polynesian involvement in both codes, including the low number of coaches with Pacific Island heritage.
Andrew Johns has had a close connection to Samoa for more than a decade through regular surfing trips to the island nation and has been speaking with Matthew and Williams about helping the nation to become stronger on the international stage.
After making the bombshell revelation on The Matty Johns Show on Sunday night, which featured Luai and To’o as special guests, Matthew Johns spoke further on Monday about the ambitions of the three-way coaching team.
“Joey has always had a thing that he would really like to help out the Samoan rugby league side and we have been watching them from afar over the last couple of years, and we are puzzled for the reason they aren’t emulating what Tonga have been doing,” Johns told SEN Sydney.
"If you have a look at the talent in the Samoan football team, I really think they should be challenging Australia. That’s how much talent there is there.
“Andrew came to me and said 'what do you think?' and I said 'if you want to take it on, I’m in'.
"You have got to understand that we don’t have the time to be full-time coaches but if we can get a coaching team together then we are very interested.
“I know Andrew has spoken to Sonny and Sonny is interested to have a role.
Samoa save the best till last
“I don’t know if it is a situation where you get a person in who, for want of a better term, manages the side for periods, and Sonny, myself and Andrew come in to take on a more hands-on role, but speaking on behalf of myself and Andrew, we won’t take a zac.
“I think that is important for sides like Tonga, who have emerged, and Samoa, who are trying to emerge, because they are doing it on a shoestring budget.
"The game has been more than good for Andrew and myself so we wouldn’t take a penny off it and we are interested in doing it.”
The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARL Commission, NRL clubs or state associations.