All eyes should be on Toa Samoa in the Rugby League World Cup as a strong final squad has been announced which includes eight players from Penrith and Parramatta grand final teams.
It is a team laden with some of the heaviest hitters and biggest line-breakers in the sport.
Samoa is the first Pacific nation to publicly unveil their squad for the World Cup and if coach Matt Parish wanted to make a statement ahead of the opening game against hosts England on October 15, he has done so with the depth of talent named.
Panthers stars Jarome Luai, Brian To’o, Stephen Crichton, Izack Tago, Spencer Leniu and Taylan May headline the 24-man squad, which also includes Eels forwards Junior Paulo and Oregon Kaufusi.
Paulo, Luai, To’o and Crichton were members of this year’s NSW Origin team, while Canberra prop Josh Papalii played for Queensland.
Sydney Roosters teen sensation Joseph Suaalii was also a member of the Blues squad, while North Queensland Cowboys speedster Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow played for the Maroons in the 2021 Origin series.
Wests Tigers winger David Nofoaluma, who spent the back end of the season on loan to Melbourne Storm, is among 10 players from June’s Pacific Test squad to miss selection for the World Cup.
Nofoaluma scored four tries in Samoa’s 42-12 defeat of Cook Islands at Campbelltown Stadium. Warriors forward Jazz Tevaga, who played hooker in the mid-season Test, has been ruled out after undergoing a season ending shoulder surgery.
Huddersfield hooker Danny Levi, who is one of two Super League players in the squad along with 2021 Penrith premiership winner Tyrone May, is expected to share the dummy half duties with Wests Tigers utility Fa’amanu Brown.
Dolphins recruit Anthony Milford, Luai, Tyrone May (Catalans) and Warriors playmaker Chanel Harris-Tavita provide depth in the halves, while the forward pack will have rival nations on guard.
Besides Paulo and Papalii, the front-row stocks include Manly pair Martin Taupa’u and Josh Aloiai, Cronulla’s Braden Hamlin-Uele and Royce Hunt, Leniu and Kaufusi.
The second-rowers include Cowboys ball-playing back-rower Luciano Leilua, St George Illawarra’s Jaydn Su’a and Wests Tigers rookie Kelma Tuilagi.
Suaalii, Crichton Tabuai-Fidow and Harris-Tavita are among the fullback options. Parish also has the option to select an all Penrith three-quarter line-up of To’o, Crichton, Tago and Taylan May.
Samoa meet England in the opening match of the World Cup at Newcastle’s St James Park on October 15 before taking on Greece at Doncaster on October 23 and France at Warrington on October 30.
Should they beat England and finish top of Pool A, Samoa will flip the tournament on its head as the World Cup hosts could be on a collision course to meet Tonga in the quarter-finals.
The majority of the Samoa squad will travel to England on Monday, with the eight players involved in the grand final to depart on October 7.
Parish has also assembled an impressive coaching team for the World Cup, which includes Castleford coach Lee Radford and Sharks assistant Daniel Holdsworth.
They will join former Sea Eagles coach Geoff Toovey, ex-Leeds mentor Richard Agar and 2017 Samoa World Cup captain Frank Pritchard.
Panthers assistant coach Andrew Webster was a member of the Samoa coaching staff during the mid-season Test defeat of Cook Islands but he has stepped aside after being appointed to the Warriors job next season.
Josh Aloiai (Manly Warringah Sea Eagles)
Fa’amanu Brown (Wests Tigers)
Stephen Crichton (Penrith Panthers)
Mathew Feagai (St George-Illawarra Dragons)
Braden Hamlin-Uele (Cronulla Sharks)
Chanel Harris-Tavita (Warriors)
Royce Hunt (Cronulla Sharks)
Oregon Kaufusi (Parramatta Eels)
Luciano Leilua (North Queensland Cowboys)
Spencer Leniu (Penrith Panthers)
Danny Levi (Huddersfield Giants)
Jarome Luai (Penrith Panthers)
Taylan May (Penrith Panthers)
Tyrone May (Catalans Dragons)
Anthony Milford (Newcastle Knights)
Josh Papalii (Canberra Raiders)
Junior Paulo (Parramatta Eels)
Jaydn Su’a (St George-Illawarra Dragons)
Joseph Suaalii (Sydney Roosters)
Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow (North Queensland Cowboys)
Izack Tago (Penrith Panthers)
Martin Taupa’u (Manly Warringah Sea Eagles)
Brian To’o (Penrith Panthers)
Kelma Tuilagi (Wests Tigers)
Coach: Matt Parish