Samoa are going into their Pacific Test against Wayne Bennett’s Englishmen with no regards for reputation and adamant they can cause a massive boilover at Campbelltown Stadium on Saturday.
With the World Cup just under six months away, Toa Samoa have a chance to prove they are no longer minnows of the rugby league world.
Captained by North Queensland premiership winner Antonio Winterstein and having named Brisbane half Anthony Milford, Canberra’s Joey Leilua and a massive pack featuring Junior Paulo, Sam Kasiano and Josh Maguire, they look on paper capable of an upset.
“I’m pretty confident with the boys that we’ve got that we can get the job done,” Winterstein said.
Knocking off England would be the biggest scalp in the history of the world No.5 side.
The closest they have come to upsetting a top-tier nation came during the 2014 Four Nations when they were narrowly defeated by New Zealand (14-12) and England (32-26).
And after making it to the quarter-finals of the 2013 World Cup, they appear to have built nicely ahead of this year’s tournament.
Winterstein speaks effusively of the passion every man in the Samoan 17 has for the jersey and points to their considerable strike power, particularly out wide.
“That’s the vibe in the camp at the moment, they’re hungry,” Winterestein said.
“We know we’ve got a special group of boys that’s put their hands up to represent the jersey and I think if we play to our strengths and use the guys that we’ve got out wide, we can really cause them dramas.
“If we can get them some early ball and let them do their thing, we’ll be pretty hard to beat.”
England will be reliant on their forwards, headlined by Sam Burgess, James Graham and Elliott Whitehead to lay the platform.
With first-choice halves Gareth Widdop and the in-form George Williams missing through injury, Kevin Brown and Luke Gale will lead the side around.
Bennett has chosen former Queensland back-rower Chris McQueen to make his England debut while Australian-born Cronulla forward Chris Heighington will play his first game for England since 2011.
The match will be the headline act of Saturday’s triple header at Campbelltown with Brisbane’s Alex Glenn captaining the Cook Islands against Papua New Guinea and Will Hopoate leading out an experienced Tongan team against an exciting Fiji side.
STATS THAT MATTER
* Samoa has won all three of the Pacific Test matches over the past three years, defeating Fiji in 2014 (32-16) and Tonga in 2015 (18-16) and 2016 (18-6).
* Every member of the Samoan squad has played NRL, with each of them playing at least one match this season.
* England are rated third in the world rankings while Samoa are fifth.