Josh Aloiai has revealed how an approach to play for New Zealand helped convince him that his true allegiances belong with Samoa and representing his late father Sef in Saturday’s Pacific Test against Cook Islands.
Aloiai was named in a wider Kiwis squad ahead of the World Cup and the Manly prop said he had the chance to be one of the 24 players chosen to travel to Auckland ahead of Saturday’s homecoming Test against Tonga, but he decided to commit to Samoa.
In doing so, Aloiai is tied to Samoa for the World Cup, in which the Pacific nation will meet England in the opening match at St James Park as players can only represent one nation during a calendar year - even if they are eligible for another country.
“I had the opportunity to go over to New Zealand as part of the 24-man squad to play Tonga and, also, that was the squad they were looking at for the World Cup,” Aloiai said.
“I guess it was a real question of where my allegiances are at this stage and where I am at in my career, not only for this mid-year Test match but also for the World Cup, and I wasn’t willing to let my Samoan jersey down so that is where my allegiances lay.”
The 26-year-old has previously played for Samoa in the 2018 and 2019 mid-season Tests and despite being born and raised in New Zealand he said his family’s connection to the Pacific nation was strong.
His father, Sef, who passed away in 2009, was from the village of Vailoa Palauli and Aloiai said he played in memory of him every time he wore the Toa Samoa jersey.
“My dad was full Samoan and he passed away when I was a teenager so that is part of the reason I love putting this jersey on,” Aloiai said.
“I put on this jersey on behalf of my father and my whole Samoan family is really, really proud whenever I am able to put on this jersey to represent our small, proud nation and for my father.
“Now that my son, Uriah, is nearly two he will be able to watch me run out to play for Samoa and that really means a lot to me.
“We are a small country that has punched above our weight for a long time. We are very influential, especially in the sporting arenas and particularly rugby league. We make up a fair number of the NRL playing group now.”
Yet for all the talent Samoa has to draw on the team has not been able to match the success of Tonga and it is a record the players, including Aloiai, have vowed to set straight at the end-of-season World Cup.
Not only does Samoa boast a star-studded line-up for the Pacific Test at Campbelltown, the likes of Jarome Luia, Stephen Crichton, Brian To’o, Junior Paulo, Josh Papali’i and Tino Fa'asuamaleaui are on Origin duty and could join the squad for the World Cup.
“It is a phenomenal squad, with these great youngsters who you know are going to be superstars – and they are superstars at the moment – but it will be awesome to also have the other players who have Origin commitments to join us leading into the World Cup,” fellow Sea Eagles prop Martin Taupau said.
“It will be a huge boost not only for Toa Samoa, but for Samoa as well. Being on the international stage and being the opening game of the Rugby League World Cup, it is enormous.
“We definitely have a huge task ahead of us at the World Cup, but our focus now is obviously on playing the Cook Islands and then we will build from there.”
Taupau and Aloiai are joined in the Samoa side by Manly team-mate Josh Schuster, who was also named in last year’s 38-man Kiwis squad.
Panthers quartet Charlie Staines, Taylan May, Izack Tago and Spencer Leniu are also in the team, along with Knights playmaker Anthony Milford, who was once Samoa’s biggest name star, and Warriors trio Chanel Harris-Tavita, Jazz Tevaga and Bunty Afoa.
“I feel honoured and proud, just being here in camp and being able to continue my work for Samoa, and also helping these young Pacific Islanders to understand the true meaning of what being Samoan is and just the connection to culture,” Taupau said.
“It was just remarkable how well we gelled together, and it was like we had been training for weeks together. I guess that comes with the experienced players that we have and the youngsters who are just really eager to apply themselves.
“It has been a bit disappointing in the past but we could use that and leverage that to be better and I believe that this squad, with other players who will join us, will get stronger and stronger and stronger.”