Samoa have shown their strength ahead of the Rugby League World Cup, defeating the Cook Islands 42-12 in an entertaining clash at Campbelltown.
David Nofoaluma, himself a Campbelltown local, grabbed four tries while Josh Schuster was at his creative best in the middle.
Schuster showed all his emotion in the anthems, bursting into tears as Samoa’s played, and took all of it into the game: he had three try assists from the second row, with all his trademark soft handling skills on display.
The two wingers, Nofoaluma on the right and Taylan May on the left, were exceptional, as was Martin Taupau – tasked with leading the haka – was at his best, showing pure strength and guile in the middle.
A Samoan team that plays like this – and with the likes of Jarome Luai, Stephen Crichton, Tino Fa’asuamaelaui in the side – will cause England plenty of problems coming opening day in Newcastle in October.
The Cook Islands – whose entire population would fit into Campbelltown Stadium – more than played their part. The 42-12 scoreline was unfair on them, with two late intercept tries and a few close calls with the bunker denying them a closer result that their performance deserved.
The manner in which they recovered from a tough start to wrest back control and make a solid game of it was impressive. Come World Cup time, when they have their Super League players on deck and a little more experience in the squad, they will be a threat.
Samoa looked ominous early on. Josh Schuster produced a characteristic unconventional offload to get Taylan May in at the corner after just five minutes, before on the other side, Nofoaluma – no stranger to a try in these parts – stepped through several tacklers to get over.
It continued, with Anthony Milford dinking a kick that foxed Cook Islands winger Steven Marsters and fell to the feet of Izack Tago.
The scoreboard was outpacing the clock and most of the attack was coming down the left, with Penrith’s pairing of Tago and May given consistently good ball from Anthony Milford.
May broke the line again and kicked through for fellow Panther Charlie Staines, but his kick on was too long, and moments later, was felled by Anthony Gelling with an excellent cover tackle.
Samoa had to go to the other side again, where Jaxson Paulo found an excellent flick pass to get Nofoaluma in for his second.
The Kukis could barely keep up, but gained a breather thanks to a nasty head knock for Josh Aloiai – who, thankfullym was able to walk off under his own steam – after getting his head in the wrong place in a tackle with Reuben Rennie.
Once they had got their breath back, the Cook Islands enjoyed their best period of the game.
Aaron Teroi might have got them on the board, but was held up over the line after an excellent passing move, before Esan Marsters went one better, but was called back for a double movement.
Samoa hadn’t gone away – Spencer Leniu thought he he was over but failed to keep hold of the ball – but could not cross again before half time.
The Cook Islands started brightly in the second half. Esan Marsters again broke the line and got the ball to Makahesi Makatoa and then Moses Noovao-McGreal who was stopped on the line by Jaxson Paulo.
After an extended period of pressure, they were able to bash their way to points via Davvy Moale – a late call-up after opting for the Cook Islands over NSW under 19s – crashing and turning to get a well-deserved try.
The attack continued, but came to a catastrophic end as, just as they had been given a six again in good ball, Reece Joyce through an expansive pass that Nofoaluma picked off and returned the length of the field for his hat trick.
It was time for some razzle dazzle. Marty Taupau slipped Josh Schuster through a gap, the Manly man kicked on and May outpaced his teammate Harris-Tevita to get his second.
There was no putting the Kukis away, however. No sooner had they got the ball back, they were on the attack again and in at the corner. Esan stood in a tackle and found cousin Steven to dive in.
It was, however, as if the Samoans always had another level. Josh Schuster was again the creator, with a step, one-handed carry and turn of speed to bust the line, followed by a deft kick that allowed Nofoaluma to get a fourth.
Paulo would be given the chance to put a tin hat on things with a late intercept that was celebrated to the rafters by a huge Samoan crowd.