‘What a time to be alive’: rugby league fever grips Samoa after team’s surprise World Cup run

On the main street of Apia, the capital of Samoa, everything is blue. People are in royal blue T-shirts, blue streamers hang from car windows, some houses have even been painted blue in the last week.

Samoans are decked out in the colours of their Toa Samoa, the national men’s rugby league team, the surprise stars of the Rugby League World Cup.

Last week, Samoa stunned fans with a golden-point drop goal that gave them a 27-26 victory over highly ranked England to reach their maiden tournament final. With that goal, Samoa became the first nation outside Australia, New Zealand or Great Britain/England to qualify for the tournament final since 1968.

Samoans will be getting out of bed before dawn on Sunday to watch their team make history, as they contest the final against Australia at Old Trafford in Manchester. The game is scheduled for 4pm Saturday afternoon, UK time, 5am Sunday morning Samoa time.

The excitement in Samoa and among Samoans around the world is palpable. There are reports of shops in New Zealand selling out of Samoan flags, while car parades supporting the team have been held all weekend in neighbouring American Samoa.

Local radio announcer Fritz Arp of Siusega said he’s never seen anything like the mood in the Samoa.

“This is a whole new different level, where there are car parades, in town and rural areas; schools holding daily assemblies and students conducting the Siva Tau, I mean its overwhelming the support showcased by our people for our Toa Samoa.

“Even when I am on air, people are calling in making dedications to the Toa players … it’s unheard of the support by our people.”

Shopkeeper in blue T-shirt selling flags and other merchandise
A shop in Apia, Samoa, sells merchandise to supporters of the men’s rugby league team ahead of the final of the World Cup. Photograph: Ame Sene Tanielu/The Guardian

Several shops visited by the Guardian on the island country had run out of Samoan flags.

Hollywood actor Dwayne Johnson, who is half Samoan, filmed a message of support for the team.

“I am delivering the message with boundless love and boundless reverence and respect and boundless pride for my boys, my Usos, the Toa Samoa,” he said in a video to his 348 million Instagram followers.

“This is a big deal, they are making history in the world of sports, in the world of rugby. This is the first time that our country, our culture has ever gone to the final for any sport. I could not be more proud of them, we could not be more proud of them.”

On Friday, an event was held in front of the government’s executive building, with members of the public gathering to perform the largest ever Siva Tau, a Samoan war dance.

The president of Rugby League Samoa, Tagaloa Faafouina Su’a, said the Siva Tau would be filmed and sent to the team, to “show our boys and the world how proud we are of them”.

“Toa’s success is not only the team players’ hard work but most importantly the backing they have received from their homeland Samoa, that they are representing, and thousands of Samoans across the globe.”

Seleni “Cash” Alofaifo, a local singer and disc jockey, who recorded a song celebrating the team released the day that Samoa defeated England in the semi-finals, commended Toa for putting Samoa back on the world map.

People dressed in blue walk beside a bus draped with flags supporting the team
Schoolchildren join in a procession supporting the team in Apia. Photograph: Ame Sene Tanielu/The Guardian

“I’m sure after last week’s monumental game, people will be Googling Samoa. A proud moment,” he said. “The result of the Rugby League World Cup is not important but the fact is that we made to the finals speaks volumes.

“Toa won against the commentators, against the ref and one of the best teams in rugby league, but we have bigger fish to fry tomorrow.”

Jonah Tuiletufuga from Apia said he could not wait for Toa to take field against Australia.

“I will not pre-empt the results, but the Toa knows that all the Samoans are rallied behind them, and so they shouldn’t let us down. I’m in my 40s and have never seen anything like this before in my town let alone my village, the spirit of unity is quite unique. What time to be alive,” he said.

The deputy police commissioner has issued a statement saying that while police were “prepared to allow supporters to show their patriotism support for our Toa Samoa” they would be “out in force” on Sunday to enforce the law and ensure people were kept safe.


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