12 Nov 2022
Papali'i ready to make special history with Samoa
Samoa are in their first ever World Cup semi-final against England but prop won tournament in 2013 with Australia
By Josh Graham
Samoa’s Josh Papali’i admitted it would defy all expectations if he was able to add an extra special second Rugby League World Cup winners medal to his collection.
Samoa were pumped 60-6 by England in the tournament’s opening game but have the chance to exact some sweet revenge in their first ever World Cup semi-final at the Emirates on Saturday after toppling Tonga 20-18 in the last eight.
Papali’i won the 2013 World Cup with Australia but switched allegiance to Samoa five years ago and is two games away from becoming the first man to win the tournament with different sides.
Papali’i said: “I’m going to take a lot from that experience, I’ve been in this situation before and was lucky enough to win one with Australia back in 2013 but that was a long time ago and we are trying to create history for the tiny nation of Samoa.
“We are going to have to bring our best performance against England. The first game wasn’t too class for us but I think we’ve been building very nicely into this semi-final; it’s going to be a cracker of a game.
“The ’13 one meant a lot but to win one with the boys we have and for the little nation of Samoa would be unheard of. It would be special, and those jerseys would be nice in the pool room.”
Prop Papali’i knows the crowd in the capital will be all for the hosts but is relishing the fervent support the Pacific Islanders have received back home and is aiming to repay them in style by making the Old Trafford final.
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He added: “They’ve had parades on parades, Samoa have had parades for the last three weeks.
“Samoa has definitely got behind the team, it does mean a lot but it comes down to this Saturday.
“It’s fun to go to stadiums knowing our country is right behind us but saying that, our performances need to do the talking. Saturday is a tough ask but it’s doable.”
Papali’i will come up against some familiar foe in the last four having played with England’s second row pairing of Elliott Whitehead and John Bateman as well as half-back George Williams at NRL side the Canberra Raiders.
The 30-year-old has not been able to share any inside information on the trio but is looking forward to catching up with his mates, although a beer may have to wait until after the tournament.
He said: “Everyone plays a bit different when you play for your country. Elliott and Bateman are just workhorses.
“Bateman is very unpredictable, for sure, he probably doesn’t know half of the things he’s doing. He’s very crafty but very skilful as well.
“If we lose then I’m probably not [going to have a beer with them] and if we win then probably not either, because we will be too busy celebrating!
“I’m staying overseas after so we will definitely catch up then.”
Shaun Wane has made one change to his England squad from the quarter-final win over Papua New Guinea with Canterbury Bulldogs prop Luke Thompson replacing Matty Lees and Papali’i is braced for a colossal contest in the middle.
He added: “No doubt they’ve got an all-star line-up in the forward pack. They have got agility with Bateman and Elliott Whitehead coming back through the ruck and little nippy dudes like George Williams and Sam Tomkins trying to test out our middles.
“We obviously have to be on as their forwards are pretty good at the moment, we just hope they are not as good on Saturday.”
Speculation is rife that Wigan Warriors’ Bateman is set to return Down Under with Wests Tigers and Papali’i would welcome his former teammate’s NRL comeback having helped the Raiders to the 2019 NRL Grand Final together.
He said: “Bateman left on a very high note and he’s come here and been one of the best again in Super League.
“No doubt the NRL should have the best players and Bateman would definitely be one of them for sure.”
The Rugby League World Cup promises to be the biggest, best and most inclusive event in the sport’s 127-year history with men’s, women’s and wheelchair teams competing in 61 games across 21 venues throughout England. Tickets are available via rlwc2021.com/tickets